Making it easy to be green

More and more, the "how" and "where" of the home you build may be colored by your feelings about the environment. Your focus might be on the color green if you make those choices based on conserving resources in construction and energy use or preserving open space and encouraging physical activity. Entire communities are being built with conservation in mind.

More metro Atlanta developments, from the inner-city to the far suburbs, are being designed around hubs that encourage walking, front porches that encourage chatting and green space preserved for everyone.

Architect Robert Reed of Village Habitat Design creates new neighborhoods modeled after this traditional pattern, and his firm has even trademarked the term "conservation community." He believes there's a real hunger for neighborhoods like these. "When you have to walk through the neighborhood to get to your home, it automatically increases the sense of connection," he said.

Different communities are oriented toward different types of conservation --- an idea that means different things to different people. "Is park space equal to undisturbed tree canopy?" asks Gray Kelly of Southface Energy Institute. "Are they building homes with environmentally friendly materials, or is the focus solely on energy-use after occupancy?"

At Southface, where Kelly oversees the EarthCraft Communities program, they believe that a key component for a conservation community is connection to its neighbors.

"Do you have an amenity others will want to use, like green space or a swimming pool? No need for everyone to devote space for the same recreational activities or community gardens if one is available right next door," he said. "It's a matter of sharing resources."

Come with us on a tour of three conservation-oriented neighborhoods and see whether the lifestyle appeals to you.

EAST LAKE COMMONS

* Price range: $196,000 --- $289,000

* Type of housing: 2-5 bedroom townhouses; accessible flats; one free-standing home.

* Size: 67 units

The homes in the co-housing community of East Lake Commons in Decatur turn their backs on the cars in their parking lot and take advantage of pedestrian-scaled paths leading to community amenities. Residents call their community an "ecovillage" and share a commitment to community and environmental responsibility. East Lake Commons was designed to support as much home-based businesses and community-based recreation as possible, and there are vigorous composting and recycling programs.

Architect Robert Reed says the 20-acre community is built around the idea of shared resources. "You can have a smaller personal house because you have access to the common house, where there are guest suites, a commercial-scale laundry and a woodworking shop. Potluck meals are shared in the common house weekly, and there's a large cooked dinner three Sundays a month. It's a great place to live if you want to be connected with your neighbors."

For those wanting to eat locally, East Lake Commons has the edge. With a 5-acre certified organic garden, residents can belong to the Community Sponsored Agriculture program and walk over to pick up their box or bag of produce every week.

East Lake Commons functions much like a condominium complex as residents own their homes fee simple, but everything outside is held as an undivided whole.

Who: Paul Chen

How he got involved: The first meeting to organize East Lake Commons was held in 1997 in Chen's former living room. What grew out of that meeting is a co-housing community with about 170 people living in 67 units.

How it works: "The community makes its decisions through consensus," Chen said. "People have to agree 100 percent. Some functions are entrusted to committees like our landscaping group that has its own budget, but their right to do that comes from the group as a whole. We have an architectural review committee that approves what people want to do to the exterior of their homes."

How neighbors support each other: "The arrangement of our housing makes it easy. When one of our residents is sick, everyone pitches in to be sure meals are made, fund-raisers are held. It applies to simple things, too. If I don't have an ingredient for dinner, I can send my son to the neighbors, or when I need a ride to the airport at 5 a.m., someone will volunteer to take me."

What else do you share? "The common house is the hub of the community. There's a woodworking workshop with a kiln, a community pingpong table and a large dining room that becomes our dance floor. Two guest rooms are available, there's a children's playroom, the laundry which is in constant use, and we've even held our own summer camp with a half dozen camp offerings."

How it feels different: "There's a co-housing rule of thumb that front doors should be no more than 40 feet apart. By having our cars outside in a big parking lot and having to walk to our homes, it makes East Lake Commons feel like a European community before cars. You're a lot closer to people and it's easier to have conversations when you have to walk through the neighborhood to get to your house."

CLARK'S GROVE

* Price range: $190,000 --- $1 million-plus

* Type of homes: 2-bedroom townhomes; 2-bedroom flats geared for senior living; 2- or 3-bedroom live/work condos; 3-, 4- or 5-bedroom single-family homes

* Size: Approximately 300 units when complete

Clark's Grove in Covington is a "traditional neighborhood development," the first in Newton County. It's a pilot community for Southface Energy Institute's EarthCraft Communities program, so the homes are built for energy-efficiency and the neighborhood is designed for walkability.

Twenty-five percent of the land is conserved as park or green space, and the community is adjacent to Turner Lake Park, a 160-acre natural green space. Town founder Randy Vinson, a land planner, said, "It's all about the compactness of the development. We're tied into the sidewalk and street network of the surrounding historic area, and we think we can reduce by 10 to 20 percent the number of car trips our residents have to make."

The neighborhood has a Montessori School, a coffee shop in the live/work units, a University of Georgia School of Landscape Architecture design studio, and a restaurant is planned. An organic community garden is next to the ball field, mail center and pool.

During construction, special attention was given to the resources and materials on-site. Trees that could not be preserved were milled on-site and used in the construction of neighborhood amenities, such as the pool house. Excavated stone was used for retaining walls and road base.

When the community is built out, there will be 300 housing units in a wide mix of housing sizes and types.

Who: Bill Blair, who lives at Clark's Grove with his wife, Jean

When they moved in: "Construction on our house started in August 2006 and we moved in January 2007."

What they built: "Our builder, Randy Vinson, calls it American Farmhouse style. We have four bedrooms, four-and-a-half baths, living and dining rooms, a combined kitchen and sun room, a covered side porch that overlooks the garden and double front porches."

Why they bought here: "My wife and I grew up in Covington and always intended to move back. We had watched the development of Clark's Grove and when we found a house plan and a lot that we liked, we decided to move here. We left an acre-and-a-half in Conyers for our third of an acre here."

What the neighborhood's like: "There was a sense of nostalgia when we came here. With its houses set close to the street, sidewalks and street lights, it's the kind of neighborhood we both grew up in. There are playgrounds and alleyways, and you can walk to everything in the community and in downtown Covington."

Walking to Covington: "When the weather allows, my wife and I walk the mile round-trip to the town square and back. It's a nice, leisurely evening walk which is enjoyable to us as well as being good for our health. Clark's Grove has paved walking trails through the property so you can just walk through the 90 acres of the neighborhood."

Energy-efficiency: "The homes are built to EarthCraft Home standards so they're very energy-efficient. I would say our utility bills are 10 to 15 percent less."

Misconceptions: "When people find out we live in Clark's Grove, they say, 'Oh, gosh, I could never live that close to people.' But everything is so well-planned that I could as easily be on my acre-and-a-half in Conyers. My neighbor and I can both be grilling in our courtyards and we'd never know it."

COMMON POND

* For sale now: 4 ready-to-build lots ranging from $68,000 to $113,000, 2 acres to 3 1/2 acres; 2-bedroom home on 1.75 acre lot, approximately $325,000 depending on finishes

* Type of homes: single family between 1,300 and 2,600 square feet

* Size: 15 homes when complete

The name "Common Pond" works for developer Gary Kaupman on several levels. "There's a pond on the property and it's in the common area, but the concept is also that you're likely to have neighbors with a little more in common here, folks who share your concern about the environment, and understand that we're all together in this 'common pond.'"

In looking around Ellijay at the communities being developed, Kaupman decided he would find a place that had already been disturbed. "It was important to me that we not build on pristine land."

He researched vacation homes and knew that utilities and maintenance were big issues for homeowners.

To deal with those issues at Common Pond, Kaupman decided to build modern houses with lots of light and cross-ventilation.

The maximum house size allowed is 2,600 square feet, and room volumes and ceiling heights are carefully considered to keep heating and cooling costs down.

Kaupman said, "We use EarthCraft guidelines for caulking, install really good windows and 14 SEER air conditioners. We're using low VOC exterior paint and no-VOC interior paint, Energy Star appliances, and where the architecture will allow, Energy Star roofing materials."

Each house is unique and designed to require clearing as small an area as possible. "Once the house goes in, mulch goes down and we let nature come back around it," Kaupman said.

Who: Gary Solar and Doyle Hinson

What they built: A three-level modern home with three bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths. On the lower level is the "ultra lounge" and an exercise room. The living and dining room on the main floor form a large open area with a fireplace in the middle, providing a sense of separation and intimacy. A large span of windows provides the view.

How they found Common Pond: "We knew we wanted something in the mountains, but log homes really didn't resonate with us," Solar said. "We called Kaupman. Listening to his philosophy was enough to get us to drive up."

They started with a plan: Solar and Hinson had architect Greg Walker of Houser Walker Architecture adapt one of the designs he created for Common Pond. "It's turned out to be bigger than we first planned because we added a third level," Solar said, "but one of the things we really appreciated was how it fit into the site, so it could be built with the least amount of trees cut down."

How far from home: "It's an hour and a half, door to door, from Virginia-Highland, and we've been up there just about every weekend," Doyle said. "We're still putting on our finishing touches, but we're looking forward to hiking and enjoying the outdoors."

The environmental message: "Kaupman talked about the on-demand water heaters, the great insulation, radiant heat in the floors and eco-friendly materials, all the things that were going to be done to conserve the land --- and all of it really struck a chord," Hinson said.

SEVEN THINGS TO CONSIDER:

* What are your true needs versus what you presume you need?

* What materials were used in constructing the house?

* Are the mechanical and ventilation systems the most energy-efficient they can be?

* Does the house take advantage of the natural light available and is it sited and designed to take advantage of natural heating and cooling?

* What are the community and public spaces?

* How far is the house from your work, schools and the amenities you want to enjoy?

* Does the community respect and connect to the adjoining community?

--- Ed Akins, architect with Smith Dalia Architects

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Resource on green building: Southface Energy Institute, www.southface.org.

Architects: www.villagehabitat. com, www.smithdalia.com,

www.houserwalker.com.

Communities: www.eastlake commons.org, www.clarksgrove.com, www.commonpond.info.


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