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Traditional on the Outside, Innovative Inside

4 Jun 2008

Builders in New Orleans face more than the usual obstacles than those that confront the home building industry in other parts of the country. Labor and materials shortages combined with the devastated roads and other infrastructure in the wake of two 2005 hurricanes are just two of them.

But that also means that New Orleans builders have the opportunity to rise to a new challenge, says Will Bradshaw and Reuben Teague of Green Coast Enterprises.

“We’re trying to develop a business and a series of projects that model a different strategy for building in coastal areas,” Bradshaw said. “For us, New Orleans is kind of like the canary in the coal mine for the rest of the planet. It’s the place that is going to signal the risks that other communities across the country are going to face if we don’t do a better job protecting our infrastructure.”

NAHB National Green Building Conference attendees will see the first condominium units to be featured on the Tour of Green Homes. Bradshaw and Teague’s company will complete two duplexes – four units starting at less than $300,000.

The units are wind resistant, flood resistant, and very, very green – three features that are increasingly important in coastal areas, and Green Coast Enterprises wants to be out front with all of them, Bradshaw said.

The drainage canal levee failures during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita resulted in a 70 percent failure rate for the area’s buildings, a failure rate that Bradshaw and Teague believe is much too high. “The development community can be innovative” to come up with homes more likely to withstand the continuing issue of poor infrastructure, he said.

But even as builders innovate, they must keep in mind the particular architecture of New Orleans. “We’ve built a very different type of product that looks fairly similar to a traditional New Orleans home,” Teague said. “Using these new types of systems and building approaches does not necessarily mean you’re going to build a crazy-looking building.”

And like four other projects on the tour, Green Coast Enterprises will be part of an Environmental Protection Agency initiative that will landscape the condos with a raingarden and other environmentally friendly features. “The landscaping will offer benefits to the climate and to the condo owners themselves – the opportunity to store and recharge water right on the site,” Bradshaw said.

Teague said the project has several major goals.

Build hazard-resilient structures that reduce risks from wind, water, and termites. Green Coast used steel stud construction for the interior and exterior walls, while the panelized wall systems were constructed in a local factory. The homes utilize a steel-knee wall foundation system.

According to Larry Williams, president of the Steel Framing Alliance (SFA), nearly 68.7 percent of all steel scrap in North America is recycled every – just one reason why steel framing is an ideal building material for sustainable construction. “All steel has a guaranteed 25 percent minimum of recycled content so no new steel can be made without old steel. And because steel studs are always straight and true, there is only a minimal amount of job-site scrap which never has to go to a landfill. Yesterday’s soup can or refrigerator could end up being tomorrow’s new house, office building or hotel.”

They installed SURE-BOARD®, a steel sheet and medium density composite product, over the entire structure to improve shear strength, and raised the home 2 feet 9 inches above base flood elevation levels.

Fiber-cementitious siding will reduce damage from wind-driven debris and the house is tied together to withstand severe winds.

Reduce material use in construction. The builders installed sustainable flooring materials including bamboo throughout the living areas and bedrooms, recycled glass in the baths and other recycled materials where possible.

They used durable materials, such as a raised seam metal roof, that will last longer than more conventional products, and worked to minimize impervious surfaces on site through the use of pervious pavers for the driveway and parking pads.

Improve energy efficiency and comfort. The home features blown polyurethane insulation between the studs and an HVAC system that includes a relatively small, high efficiency air-conditioning unit with a dehumidifier, and an energy-recovery ventilator to increase fresh air flow without sacrificing building tightness;

The home has high-efficiency, Energy Star®-rated windows and doors and the roof includes rigid foam insulation outside the steel studs and spray foam insulation between the studs to achieve close to an R-40 roof envelope;

The project also includes Energy Star-rated appliances, compact fluorescent bulbs, and water-efficient fixtures and the mechanical equipment is run through conditioned space. The home is also wired to accept solar panels should a future owner choose to install them.

Ceiling fans are included in all interior rooms to increase air flow without having to condition space, and the steel studs built using advanced framing techniques, spaced at 24 inches on center with continuous insulation on the outside of the wall to provide a thermal break.

Reduce risk of respiratory illness, especially in young children and elderly residents. The homes incorporate only low or no-VOC paints and includes an energy recovery ventilator to increase fresh air ventilation.

Only tile and bamboo flooring is included, and there is no organic material in the structural system to remove any risk of mold.

Help people return to their homes 24-72 hours after a disaster, even if the centralized power infrastructure is down. The project is wired so that at least minimal lighting and a refrigerator are included on a separate circuit that can be tied to photovoltaics or some other backup power source.

The project will also:

  • Be designed so that a rainwater cistern system for irrigation can be added later;
  • Include landscape materials to improve water retention and treatment on site
  • Be located in walking distance of multiple services and amenities including 2 grocery stores, 5 restaurants, 2 coffee shops, a drug store, City Park, Bayou St. John, several schools, the Jazz Fest site, and more.
  • Include a guide for owners prepared by Green Coast Enterprises that describes the features of the property and how to best utilize them.
  • Include dedicated space for recycling and composting on site.
  • Feature native plants that include fruits and herbs where possible.

Finally, cost is an important consideration as well – especially if green building expects to be further driven into the mainstream, Bradshaw said. He estimates the additional features only add about 5 percent to the homes’ bottom line.

Source: National Home Builders Association “Tour of Green Homes”, May, 2008