5/16/2011 - Green buildings small on the takeoff, big on the payoff
by JOE VANHOOSE
GREEN IS GOOD! In Asheville, the leaders of the industry are constantly updating their portfolio of building options for anyone wanting to "go GREEN" in Asheville and Western North Carolina!
-- Tammy Mansell
The most stunning sight at Eric Krasle's homestead deep in the woods in Southeast Clarke County isn't the Oconee River rushing by on the west end of the 9 acres.
It's the house that provides the view that really stands out. Krasle's "roundhouse," built by Deltec Homes out of Asheville, N.C., has 17 sides to it and wrap-around porches that look off into nature. It's a one-of-a-kind home on a one-of-a-kind stretch of land.
When Krasle built the home in the late 1990s, it was one of the only energy-efficient homes in the county.
It still is. Green building in Athens, at least in the residential sector, has been a little slow to take off.
When the housing market crashed in 2008, any momentum in the green housing movement crashed with it.
"The vast majority of houses built here aren't built to any green specifications," said local home builder Shane Dekle. "If you're going to build a house in this market, you've got to keep the costs down as much as you can. If you build to those specifications, you're going to have extra costs."
Dekle has built 12 homes in Athens - including eight in his Lakewood subdivision off Barnett Shoals Road - that are EarthCraft certified. The EarthCraft program grew out of the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association in 1999 and set parameters that every house must meet to be considered green.
The program focuses on indoor air quality, energy and water efficiency, efficient design and building practices and waste management. To earn the certification, builders must use greener and efficient building materials like finger-jointed wood that fits together like puzzle pieces and argon-filled windows that repel outside heat.
"The big thing is energy efficiency and having a tight-fitting house," Dekle said. "Really, the goal of the program is about building a better house."
The program has expanded well beyond Atlanta. Now, more than 13,000 EarthCraft buildings have been certified in Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee and North and South Carolina.
But as far as homes in Athens go, there have been few. Plus, the ones that are being built must stand out in a competitive market filled with homes and condos at lower prices.
Many builders have refrained from building EarthCraft or LEED-certified homes because they can be much tougher to make any profit on, Dekle said.
"It costs $800 a house just to have a third party inspect and certify it," Dekle said. "And appraisers typically don't give you that extra value because enough EarthCraft homes haven't sold to justify the hike."
There are benefits for the homebuyer, however, that make up for the extra costs. Energy bills in EarthCraft homes run an average of about 30 percent less than their conventional counterparts, Dekle said.
Krasle's 3,000-square-foot roundhouse, which was built to many of the same standards that EarthCraft and LEED now require, has an energy bill of a house half its size.
That's no accident, either. Krasle built the home to where the least amount of sunlight would beat down on the double-pane windows. He placed the fireplace just a few feet from the front door to help keep more heat in the home in the winter. The walls are an inch thicker, and the entire interior rests on just one iron support rod.
The 17 sides were put up and assembled together in about a week. The Deltec homes allow owners to design the interior almost any way they want it.
"They can range from completely basic to very detailed," said Joe Schlenk, Deltec's marketing director. "You start with one large, open room and can finish the interior like a conventional home."
Krasle's home sits on a slab with a tunnel that his family can access through a trap door near the laundry room. It serves as a storm shelter and also a wine cellar, he said.
The house design itself actually has been known to do well in hurricanes and tornadoes, Schlenk said. After tornadoes swept through the Southeast last month, Deltec has been "overloaded" with inquiries, he added. The roundhouses are common on the sides of beaches and mountains.
"Because it is factory made, the walls are really tight," Krasle said. "The house is just more sturdy, more wind-resistant and a lot more energy efficient."