Green Scene: Green and going

Bigger isn’t always better, especially when it comes to consuming finite resources. And amid the growing popularity of homes with a smaller carbon footprint, the WNC Green Building Council’s eighth annual Green Homes Tour will offer a look at some 20 environmentally friendly houses that are currently available (see box, “Take the Tour”).

Slated for Sunday, Sept. 26, the tour will showcase homes in a variety of settings, including planned communities, infill development and traditional residential neighborhoods. These properties feature a wide range of green-building techniques, such as solar hot-water systems, nontoxic materials, indoor air-quality innovations and new energy-efficiency strategies.

Also on display will be a pair of LEED-certified homes: the first one in Western North Carolina and the first one within the Asheville city limits. The latter structure, notes local builder Dave Battle, also emphasizes what he calls “eco-affordability,” achieved by “reallocating resources to increase sustainability and reduce the footprint, all while minimizing cost.”

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED certification provides an internationally recognized third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built to conserve energy and water, reduce CO2 emissions, improve indoor air quality and consume fewer resources.

The self-guided tour covers a wide area. Participants can choose to focus on homes in Asheville or venture as far afield as Hendersonville, Leicester, Hickory Nut Gap and Bakersville.

This year, organizers have pushed up the date to avoid competing with the Asheville Home Builders Association's Parade of Homes.

Maggie Leslie, program director for the WNC Green Building Council, calls the tour “a great opportunity for people to see green features installed, ask questions about performance, and learn firsthand about the experiences of [local] builders and homeowners.”

But you don’t have to be in the market for a home to enjoy the tour, she emphasizes. “Anyone interested in this market [can] see many green homes all at once. It’s a great opportunity for our many builder- and Realtor-members committed to ‘green’ who are working hard during the market downturn.”

And while many traditional builders in the region have struggled to stay viable in the current housing market, the Council hasn't seen much slowdown in the number of HealthyBuilt Homes (a state certification program) being built here, she reports.

“Many builders that are still active here recognize the value of the green certification in differentiating their homes on the market,” says Leslie, noting that certified green homes at a certain price point are selling faster.

According to local real-estate agent David Mosrie, a Green Building Council member, nearly half of all newly constructed houses sold within the Asheville city limits in 2007 and 2008 were certified HealthyBuilt. In 2008, 12.5 percent of all building permits issued in Buncombe County were for HealthyBuilt Homes, and the ones in Asheville that were priced under $500,000 sold nearly twice as fast as their traditional counterparts.

Jody Whitehurst of Town and Mountain Realty, who has a West Asheville listing included in the tour, says certified green or HealthyBuilt homes “sell much faster and at a better price than the same home that is not [certified], because the demand is higher than the supply” right now.

“It’s value-added, especially if it’s infill between two bungalows from the ’20s with the old windows and so on,” he continues. And while the older housing offers charm, says Whitehurst, new construction delivers improved energy efficiency, better indoor air quality and less maintenance — and can have character too.

But even green builders aren’t entirely insulated from the broader market downturn, notes Mike Figura of MOSAIC Community Lifestyle Realty, who has two houses on the tour. He cites the example of Gaia Village, a 2.5-acre planned community in West Asheville that was billed as a sustainable development. Begun in 2008, Gaia suffered a setback when the original developer wasn’t able to complete the project. A second developer is expected to be coming on board soon to finish up, Figura reports.

— Susan Andrew can be reached at sandrew@mountainx.com or 251-1333, ext. 153.

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