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N.O. condos get keen on green

20 May 2008

By Rachel Strassel Contributing writer

NEW ORLEANS — The green building craze is creeping into the condominium market.

About 100 contractors, builders, financiers and building consultants gathered May 9 at the Steel Framing Alliance’s “Jazzing up the Green” event to catch a glimpse of the Arabella, the first sustainable condominiums to be featured on the National Association of Home Builders tour of green homes in and around New Orleans.

The green homes tour was one of the events scheduled for the NAHB’s 10th annual National Green Building Conference, which took place May 11-13 in New Orleans.

Green Coast Enterprises unveiled the steel-framed, New Orleans-style duplexes with the jazz sounds of the Soul Rebels Brass Band, Cajun food from Jacques-Imo’s and Louisiana-brewed Abita beer.

The yellow and blue condominiums at 3100 Fortin Street in Mid-City have a steel-frame skeleton designed to withstand the problems that plague most New Orleans homeowners: wind, water, mold and termites.

“Steel is lighter than concrete and is used in commercial building,” said Larry Williams, president of the Steel Framing Alliance. “We conducted a 10-year study on steel and found that its projected life span is 600 to 1,000 years.”

New Orleans’ tropical climate posed the biggest challenge in building the condominiums, Williams said. Green Coast Enterprises President Will Bradshaw had to use an insulation specially designed to block the transfer of heat from the exterior of the house to the interior.

The steel used to build the condominiums was coated with zinc to prevent rusting due to the humid climate of the city, Williams said.

“It’s an extraordinary material,” Williams said. “It can be recycled forever.” According to Williams, steel is 100 percent recyclable and is made with 75 percent recycled materials.

Maribeth Rizzuto, director of training and education at the Steel Framing Alliance, said New Orleans residents will “build back better” by going green.

“The actual building process is cleaner,” Rizzuto said of the condos. “There’s no steel going into the landfills.”

Along with its steel frame and special insulation, the Arabella features other green materials, such as recycled glass countertops, bamboo floors, low energy windows, sun-reflecting metal roofs and fiber cement siding. The Arabella and all of its sustainable features will cost about $290,000. It is open for public viewing from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.

“I think it’s beautiful, and it fits well into the community,” said Ruth Idakula, executive assistant for New Orleans City Councilwoman Stacy Head.

Bradshaw said he thinks the condos will attract young professionals interested in Mid-City, as well as “older, empty-nester types” drawn to the Arabella’s ease of maintenance.

The first two buyers are Bradshaw and his Green Coast Enterprises business partner, Reuben Teague.

With all of the attention on sustainable construction being brought to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Bradshaw believes the Arabella offers a preview of things to come.

“We’re looking at the condominiums as a prototype for future projects,” Bradshaw said, adding that he hopes to lower the building costs for future projects so they can be more affordable for New Orleans residents relying on charitable organizations.

Bradshaw and Green Coast Enterprises are working with Project Home Again, a nonprofit committed to spending $20 million to rebuild energy efficient homes for New Orleans residents who lost theirs during hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The homes will be raised above the minimum elevation guidelines and will meet or exceed all new building code requirements introduced since Hurricane Katrina, according to the Project Home Again Web site. Bradshaw said the Arabella meets these standards.

“(The Arabella) is a very well made, very sturdy structure that exceeded my expectations,” said Tessa Jackson, program manager for the AFL-CIO Investment Trust Corp. “I really think it’s going to set the standard.”