New green home programs catching on

Mar. 19--Green, environmentally friendly homes are the latest real estate craze touted in magazines and on home improvement shows.

But in San Antonio, green building is still taking baby steps toward widespread acceptance.

Green homes exceed the minimum requirements of a city's building code in terms of the efficient use of water, energy, building materials and land. Lower monthly utility costs, longer-lasting materials and improved indoor air quality are some of the major goals.

But how "green" is green?

Cutting-edge, zero-energy houses are built to be energy-efficient as well as energy-producing, with solar panels and rainwater-harvesting systems.

More common, though, are such things as better-insulated windows, interior paints that don't emit headache-inducing fumes, carpeting made from recycled plastic bottles, and cellulose insulation, made from about as many newspapers as a person might read in a lifetime.

Energy Star, Build San Antonio Green and the national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design are the major green building programs found in San Antonio.

The most popular green program is the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program, which helps lower monthly utility bills -- and ultimately ownership costs -- over the long haul.

"It does cost a little more," said Dan Curry, director of development and architecture with Medallion Homes, one of San Antonio's largest Energy Star builders.

But the few thousand extra dollars it costs to buy an Energy Star home pays off over time.

"Our houses are tighter and more energy-efficient," Curry said.

Although Energy Star has the best name recognition of the local green building programs, Medallion and other builders find that they still have to educate potential home buyers about the benefits.

An even "greener" building program, Build San Antonio Green, is also starting to catch on with builders and home buyers.

Build San Antonio Green was developed by the Metropolitan Partnership for Energy and the Greater San Antonio Builders Association. The goal is creating awareness and interest among builders and homeowners in resource-efficient building methods, materials and technologies.

Although only a handful of homes have achieved Build San Antonio Green certification, more than 1,100 certified green homes are anticipated by the end of 2007, said Stephen Colley, an architect who helped create the program.

That follows a national trend toward more environmentally friendly homes.

Results of a recent survey by McGraw-Hill Construction and the National Association of Home Builders showed a 20 percent increase in the number of builders producing environmentally responsible homes in 2005, and that was expected to grow another 30 percent in 2006.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes program, or LEED for Homes, is considered the nation's "greenest" program. It's being developed by the U.S. Green Building Council as a way to build homes using sustainable practices.

A LEED pilot project will put 250 housing units in the San Antonio area, including a 180-unit apartment complex for low-income families.

Medallion Homes also participated in the LEED pilot program, building two homes in the Trophy Ridge subdivision that achieved LEED certification.

For now, Curry said, Medallion will continue with the Energy Star program until LEED finds wider name recognition among home buyers.

But the builder did find it didn't have to make too many alterations to its home designs to achieve the higher certification level.

"If it catches on like Energy Star, you'll see all of the builders getting onboard," Curry said.

Heather Gayle, program manager with Contects Consultants & Architects, the firm administering the LEED program, said the program has gotten a lot of interest from builders and home buyers.

For now, though, she said Energy Star, which is required for home buyers who want to use a Texas Veterans loan, remains the most popular program.

"The military is a huge driver for business here," Gayle said. "Most of the builders in San Antonio have done at least one of those Energy Star homes."

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