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It's Easy Being Green

With so many shades of green out in the marketplace, buyers just don't get it. That may be changing.

Home builders are starting to follow a standard green grading system called LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED certification has become something of a Good Housekeeping Seal for green buildings. The grading system is administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, a national coalition of corporations, builders, universities, government agencies and nonprofit organizations that is working to promote environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy buildings. Founded in 1993, USGBC recently launched a pilot program for low-rise multifamily homes.

The hope is that developers eventually will be able to succinctly describe their projects just by mentioning the USGBC LEED brand name.

Jay Hall, the acting program manager for USGBC's LEED for Homes initiative, said, "Until there's something that's recognizable to consumers, it's going to be hard for people to grab a hold of green."

In some people's minds, the word "green" equals "recycled" -- which connotes recycled garbage, he said.

"What resonates with most consumers is to call it a high-performance home. In the context of a green home, it's safe, it's healthy, it's durable and it uses resources efficiently," explained Hall, who has 20 years of experience in energy-efficient building design.

Green condos are actually greener than the greenest single family homes. With their high residential densities, they take up less space and preserve open land. In addition, urban condos are closer to Metro stations, bus stops and bike trails, which discourages people from relying on cars to get everywhere.

"Multifamily buildings are inherently green because they use fewer resources per unit to construct and to operate. They score higher in our rating system than single-family homes for that reason," Hall said.

Spectrum at Falls Church, a 189-unit development near the East and West Falls Church Metro stops, will offer many green features, including bike storage, a concrete infrastructure made from recycled materials and floors derived from renewable resources such as bamboo and cork. Also, an energy-efficient roof and central climate-control system will reduce heating and cooling costs. To promote use of the mass transit system, builder Waterford Development is purchasing five years worth of Falls Church bus passes for 100 units.

Andrew Gutowski, who is overseeing the project as vice president of development at Waterford, said the building is designed to minimize driving. With proximity to the Washington and Old Dominion bike trail and pathways to adjacent shops and offices, some residents won't have to leave the property to eat, work and play, he said.

However, Gutowski said he does not see the greenness of the Spectrum as much of a draw. He chose to market the condos' granite countertops and stainless-steel fixtures instead of the units' energy-efficiency.

"Maybe that's wrong [of us]," Gutowski said. But, he explained, the consumers "don't assign any value to green features. We hope that will change. And we're sort of keeping our eyes open. We've just done it because we think it's the right thing to do."

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