Condo Living

It's Easy Being Green

Aliya Sternstein
Friday, February 24, 2006; 2:33 PM

Keith Ware distinctly remembers the cab driver in Ecuador six years ago who offered to relieve him of some cooking fuel he had leftover from a mountain-climbing expedition. The driver took the canister and dumped its contents into the sewer beside the road.

This is but one example of the waste and toxicity that drove the former gym manager to renovate his Southwest D.C. condo with environmentally sensitive materials and open a store devoted to environmentally and socially responsible products. Four years ago, Ware, 48, undertook the home-

improvement project himself, placing filters on plumbing fixtures, insulating his windows, applying nontoxic paints and having a friend install toilets with dual-flushing power for, ahem, solids or liquids.

The modifications to his two-bedroom condo, which he purchased for $115,000 a decade ago, cost him $20,000. He estimates the return on his investment has been more than twenty percent off his heating, water and electrical bills.

"It's not only fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly, but it saves a lot of money. Who knew that being green could be economically rewarding?" said Ware, owner of the new eco-friendly shop Future Green in Dupont Circle.

Ware is one of thousands of homeowners discovering the benefits of environmentally conscious construction. Building experts and local developers predict that, as the cost of energy rises, consumer demand for so-called "green buildings" will grow. Also, as new building technologies come into wider use, the overhead cost of developing green buildings will drop and become the industry standard.

The first local green condos cropped up in D.C. about five years ago. Now, a host of developers in Maryland, the District and Virginia are designing and selling green condos. Because green building results in energy cost-savings, healthier surroundings and more durable construction, they're the future of condo construction, say real-estate investment experts and local government officials.

"Most importantly, with oil now priced at an historic high of over $60 a barrel, it becomes far more attractive to utilize this kind of construction," said Leanne Tobias, principal of the green real-estate consulting firm Malachite LLC and a national expert in green real-estate investment.

Tobias, who has nearly 20 years of experience in commercial real estate, said she predicts the metro area will see more green condos within the next year or two, as consumers start wanting to cut down on utility bills. Energy savings are generally 20 to 40 percent relative to conventional construction.

But there are two stumbling blocks. For green condos to catch on, developers have to gain experience working with the new energy-efficient, cleaner technologies to break the cost barrier. Second, realtors and developers have to educate consumers on what they are getting when they buy green.

Right now, many people think anything "green" requires abiding by the laws of tree-hugging and granola-crunching.

But "green building" is a loose term. Some prospective condo buyers think of gigantic solar panels that energize an entire building, while others have the misconception of biodegradable carpeting laid in a couple rooms. The reality is that many green building features, such as energy-saving heat pumps, low-flow faucets and non-toxic paints, are invisible to the owner.

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