Builder Does its Part for the 'Green' Cause

Building a healthy home, one that promotes wellness in its inhabitants and is safe for the environment, is the mission of Cradle to Cradle Home -- a worldwide movement that has come to Rocky Mount by way of Southern Heritage Homes. Southern Heritage builds modular homes. The house it is working on now, designed by Steven Feather and Richard Rife, is Southern Heritage's first attempt at "green" building.

Late in 2004, SmithLewis Architecture firm in Roanoke started taking entries for the C2C Home Design Competition. Submissions came in from all over the world: 625 of them from 40 different countries.

Designers were asked to create homes that are environmentally friendly, fit into Roanoke's historic neighborhoods and are affordable. The book "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things" by William McDonough and Michael Braungart was the basis for the contest design question. It focuses on maintaining a healthy environment by being a good partner, a healthy component, of nature. The book uses the term environment to encompass communities as well. Healthy homes begat healthy people who create healthy communities and so on...

The jurors, world-renowned architects Alexander Garvin, Daniel Libeskind, Bill McDonough, Randall Stout and Sarah Susanka, whittled the entries down to 225. The home by Feather and Rife was one of the more than 200 to go to the final judging in January 2005 at the Art Museum of Western Virginia.

"It was one of the ones very early on that the Gainsboro folks were interested in," said C2C Home Assistant Director Nell Boyle of Feather and Rife's design. "It fits into the neighborhood."

One of the goals of the C2C Home Design contest was to rejuvenate Roanoke's inner-city neighborhoods by building some of the best design entries on empty lots. Once Southern Heritage finishes constructing the Feather and Rife design at its Rocky Mount plant, it will be taken to the 300 block of Gilmer Avenue in Roanoke where Blue Ridge Housing Development Corporation will put the pieces of the modular home together.

"Some of the people involved in this competition decided that modular might be the way to go," says Southern Heritage Homes Sales Manager Butch Jarrett when asked how the company became involved in the project. "Steven Feather had some knowledge of modular building. He did the design work with a few question and answer sessions with us."

Southern Heritage builds approximately 40 to 50 homes a year. All of them are custom homes built in the climate-controlled environment of their plant. Boyle said the way the Southern Heritage construction process is set up fits in well with the special needs associated with attempting to build a "green" house, namely the special materials needed.

"We are a small company so we give a little more attention to detail and the home is in the factory a little longer than some other companies," explained Jarrett.

"Our homes are in the plant for at least a month. A lot of times we deal with specialty products and we need that extra time."

Some of the products used in this home include James Hardie fiber cement siding and FSC lumber. FSC certified wood is wood that has been harvested from forests deemed to be practicing environmentally and economically sustainable forestry. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international organization that certifies forestry practices all over the world.

The foundation is made with Hycrete, a concrete additive that is used to inhibit the rusting and corrosion of rebar, a steel bar, and has been certified as a Cradle to Cradle Biological Nutrient. Cradle to Cradle Certification helps consumers purchase and specify products and companies that are trying to create environmentally safe products. It also provides is a way for companies with a means to tangibly and credibly measure success in environmentally intelligent design.

"The green process, we believe in it. We know it's something we have to pay attention to in the future," said Jarrett. "But a lot of the material is not readily available to the primary market right now and what is available is usually at a premium price."

One of the goals of the C2C Home Design Contest was to create awareness that these materials exist, which organizers hope will create more of a demand for these products. The end result would be less expensive materials; the old supply-and-demand theory applies.

Many of the materials used on this house have been donated by the manufacturers. Boyle said a preliminary estimate on the cost of building this house is around $170,000, but she adds that could change because she does not have the cost of a cool roof coating donated by BASF.

The cost to the home buyer once the home is placed on Gilmer Avenue will be around $120,000. It will be 1,800 square feet -- 200 more feet than the original design because Roanoke's Historical Review Board required the expansion to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood. Boyle said some changes to the roof line and adding a wrap-around porch were also required.

"I have to stress this is not a Cradle to Cradle house," says Boyle. "A cradle to cradle house just can't be built right now. We are just trying to get as close as we can."

The challenge for architects and builders is to construct a house as close to the Cradle to Cradle principles as possible. Cradle to Cradle is a cyclical model of an industrial system in which the waste materials that are produced are re-incorporated into the system. When its life as a home is done the components of a Cradle to Cradle house should be able to re-enter the cycle.

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