On Green Building

“Factoring in the pay-back
amount of the energy
savings and conservation
of our planet, green
building is the right
thing to do.”

Michael Powell
Archwood Building Company

The News and Observer, 2008

Green on Parade

By IRIS JUNE VINEGAR, Correspondent

Solar panels on the standing seam metal roof provide clues to the green aspects of this new construction.

Take a former English professor-turned-builder whose favorite books include Thoreau’s “Walden” and biographies of Frank Lloyd Wright. Add his project manager, a former UNC-Chapel Hill political science major who studied environmental law. Bring both builders together with a couple owning a vacant .2-acre lot and “green” (healthy) blueprints and presto: Up sprouts a $480,000 certified green-built five-bedroom home at 712 Latta Street inside Raleigh’s beltline (lot and landscaping extra).

The arts and crafts-style house, which is featured in the Parade of Homes, is certified by the Green Home Builders of the Triangle, a joint program of the Home Builders Associations of Raleigh-Wake County and Durham, Orange and Chatham Counties.

Archwood Building Company president Michael Powell, the former English professor, admits it would be a stretch to compare life in a green home inside Raleigh’s bustling Beltline to Thoreau’s self-imposed solitude in the woods. But, he explains, “Walden” could be a green primer. “The book deals with a thoughtful man building his own home using local and natural products.”

Powell, who comes from a family of builders, has been renovating and building homes for 23 years. Although his company usually builds two new houses a year, the majority of its work is remodeling.

Those attributes suited his Latta Street clients because, Powell says, “they wanted a builder that pays attention to details and the problem solving that comes with remodeling work, but that also builds new homes.” Although the Latta Street project is Archwood’s first certified green home, Powell is very passionate about green building. “I believe a green home improves not only the quality of life of the people who live in the home, but also those living around it—the entire planet,” he explains.

John Sohn agrees. As a political science major whose courses included environmental law, the project manager learned in the early 1990s that some public policies opposed regulations to protect the environment. “I realized that one day our reckless behavior would come back to haunt us,” recalls Sohn who has since built twelve green homes. As a builder, he said, “I try to be sensitive to our environment and natural resources so we can protect the lifestyles and future of our upcoming generations.” That includes increasingly frequent discussions with owners about environment-friendly options for their homes.

Green building is on the rise nationally. This year it is expected to be six percent of residential construction (up from two percent in 2005), according to a recent survey by McGraw-Hill Construction Research & Analytics for the U.S. Green Building Council. That makes sense when you realize that in addition to being healthier for the occupants as well as the planet, many green features can pay for themselves over the years through federal and state tax credits. “Factoring in the pay-back amount of the energy savings and conservation of our planet, green building is the right thing to do,” Powell says.

The environment-conscious owners of the Latta Street home think so too. They chose a building lot not only for its southern exposure, but because it is within walking distance of Cameron Village shopping, a saving of fuel and pollution.

After discussing their energy needs and the blueprints designed by architect David Maurer, the couple hired Archwood to build their green home. “As the process has gone along, John (Sohn) has been full of ideas and also has been unfailingly open to researching any ideas we’ve suggested,” noted one of the owners.

That exchange of ideas has resulted in no less than 45 green features in the 2,964-square-foot home, beginning with the tightly sealed crawl space which includes a humidifier, air conditioning ducts and a 24-gauge vapor barrier to prevent moisture from the earth. There’s a recirculation pump for the three water heaters which get their energy from two solar panels on the roof; hot water switches in all the bathrooms conserve that energy.

The Latta Street project boasts a tightly sealed crawl space that includes a 24-gauge vapor barrier to block moisture. And the three water heaters get solar energy from panels on the roof.

The owners, who plan to grow a minimum of grass, will have rain barrels with spigots for the hose to water their vegetable garden and other plantings. In fact, they chose a metal roof instead of asphalt not only because the runoff water will be cleaner but because that roof is supposed to last a lifetime and can also be recycled.

Additional exterior and interior green features in the home include long-lasting Hardiplank siding and Miratech and PVC exterior trim, low VOC paint, lighting fixtures and nine ceiling fans, as well as stone and granite.

In fact, the liberal use of granite, porcelain tile and other natural products throughout the home proves that it can be classically beautiful and sustainable as well. The owners got help with those choices from Archwood interior designer DeAnna Sohn. “My goal with every design project is to educate the homeowner and lend them my years of experience to help them make perfect choices for their home,” she explained.

For example, they chose timeless granite as the focal point in every room. The kitchen and power room feature striking Colonial Gold granite while Fashion, a flowing multi-green, red and white stone adorns the master bath, including shower shelf, ledge and bench. Upstairs, Firestone granite lends a classy flair to the bathrooms. In addition to the granite, the owners chose split-faced stone and a two-inch thick limestone hearth to surround the fireplace, as well as natural pebble flooring in the showers.

And yet every feature in the home is functional, including the exquisite cherry cabinets, pine entertainment center and the very unique custom cabinet for shoes and handbags at the back door. And all the walls in the detached garage are covered with pegboard.

“While our primary focus for design selections in the house was to minimize the carbon impact,” notes DeAnna Sohn, “we certainly wanted to create a beautiful and practical home for this family, as their intention is to live there forever.”

Forever should last a long time but so, we hope, will our planet. Noting that Frank Lloyd Wright designed a home that seemed to evolve out of the earth and be a part of it, Archwood builder Powell has a similar goal: “To design and build a home that is environmentally sensitive, energy efficient and with natural products. If we do that, anyone can walk through it and feel good.”

Feel good and walk through it in the Parade of Homes.

E-mail Iris June Vinegar at irisjune11@aol.com.