Hope Among Heartache
12 May 2008
The NAHB National Green Building Conference kicked off with a Green Homes Tour that showcased the struggle to rebuild New Orleans—and the smart ways some are bouncing back.
By: Katy Tomasulo
New Orleans, May 11 — As we departed for the green homes tour on the first day of the NAHB’s National Green Building Conference, we were warned: “This won’t be your typical New Orleans tour” of the French Quarter and historic cemeteries. Instead, this would be a tour of “real New Orleans neighborhoods” where citizens are still fighting to rebuild their lives nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated this once thriving metropolis.
Indeed, as the Green Homes Tour wound through New Orleans neighborhoods of Lakeview, Gentilly, and Saint Bernard Parish, it was evident that the city is in fact a battleground of sorts, as those who have returned try to keep their lives and their beloved city afloat by rebuilding nearly destroyed homes even as neighboring houses remain abandoned. It seemed, in most neighborhoods, that for every one house that has been remodeled or is undergoing renovation, 10 more are still boarded up. One home in particular still sported what was the most visual of images: a hole in the roof that a tour guide observed was likely made by the owner trying to escape Katrina’s rising flood waters. Retail outlets remained shuttered in many areas. The infamous FEMA trailers and even the occasional blue-tarped roof continue to dot the landscape.
But our tour guide also promised we’d see something else today: Hope. Hope in the hearts of those who have returned that they can rebuild stronger, safer homes designed for the climate and the community.
For as much as this was a tour of “green homes,” more importantly, it seemed, this was a showcase of structures built or rebuilt to stand up to the location, the climate, and potential natural disasters. In most of the homes, this crucial part of green building—durability—combined with other features that promote energy efficiency, water conservation, and resource conservation.
One of those rays of hope lay in the first home on the tour, a “shotgun-style,” early-20th century house in Mid City’s historic district that homeowner Shannan Cvitanovic—who had bought the home from her grandmother—knew she would always find a way to return to. After two-and-a-half stressful years away, she will move back next week into a gutted and refurbished house, one that has been improved with features that will stand up to the climate.
For example, the new wall system, designed for bulk water drainage, consists of exterior cladding, a Home Slicker drainage mesh, rigid foamboard, Agribalance spray foam insulation, and paperless drywall. Other green features include Energy Star-rated appliances, a 23-SEER HVAC system, and a tankless water heater.
Unlike Cvitanovic, homeowner Diane Collins almost didn’t return to her home—which was flooded with 10 feet of water following the hurricane—in the Gentilly neighborhood after relocating to Mississippi. But she couldn’t help but be drawn back. Collins knew about green building, so she was on board when KC Contractors suggested incorporating sustainable features into her remodel. The home includes a tankless water heater, low-VOC finishes, Energy Star-rated appliances, and open cell foam insulation. Wall studs and scrap metal were recycled during construction.
In addition to a number of remodels, several homes on the tour were new construction projects at varying levels of green. Green Coast Enterprises built two duplex condominiums on a vacant lot in a middle-class neighborhood in Mid City. The first green multifamily project in New Orleans, the two buildings were made with panelized steel prefabricated at a factory 30 miles away, including 4-foot knee-walls that raise the first floor.
Though the homes are priced at nearly $300,000, Green Coast president Will Bradshaw believes the project can be used as a model for similar, but more affordable, units down the road. New Orleans residents, he said, are eager for healthier, safer homes such as these.
Olde World Builders showcased its HomeXE, a house built on 8-foot wooden piles that will raise all of the living space above a parking garage and out of harm’s way. The dwelling, which will replace a house that was destroyed by the hurricane, will include treated Southern pine throughout and LifePine shakes and shingles.
Finally, Terry Tedesco Homebuilders showcased a project already familiar to some builders: a modular home that was originally built by Palm Harbor Homes in the Show Village at this year’s International Builders’ Show in Orlando. The NAHB Gold-rated home, which the New Orleans builder brought back and is now using to educate Louisiana homeowners about modular homes and the role they play in green building, includes performance-tested duct systems, Energy Star-rated appliances, no-VOC paints, low-VOC sealants, formaldehyde-free cabinets, and a number of other green features.
Though the methods and the levels of green varied, the theme of hope was, as promised, prevalent throughout the tour. Regardless of circumstance, each home represents another opportunity for New Orleans residents to rebuild green, and rebuild right.