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It's Easy Being Green

Stella Tarnay, an Arlington County environmental planner who works with single-family homeowners, said the number of green remodeling projects in the county is on the rise.

"I have five homeowners who want to go green for every contractor who can carry out the job," she said. Tarnay hasn't witnessed the craze reach condo consumers, yet, however. "I hear homeowners demanding green and it isn't going to be a long time before condo buyers realize they have choices about the environmental performance of the homes that they are investing in," she said.

Tarnay foresees rooftop gardens, in particular, becoming very popular throughout Arlington's condo-cluttered skyline. Rooftop gardens are known as "green roofs."

A green roof, which is covered by living plants and soil, aids in storm-water management, energy-savings and overall aesthetic appeal. During downpours, green roofs act like sponges, absorbing much of the water that would otherwise run off into the storm-water system. In the summer, green roofs keep the building interior cool.

"Green roofs are a hot new trend that can do a lot to cool our urban environment," Tarnay said.

Typically, green building principles apply to new developments, but there are ways to greenify aging condos.

For example, Tarnay's colleague, Arlington County environmental planner Aileen Winquist, 33, helped her neighbors at The Arlington Condominium plant a high-performance garden that rejuvenated barren, soggy ground at the bottom of a hill, where storm-water runoff had collected for decades. The landscaping, referred to as a raingarden because it filters rainwater, eliminated the ugliness and helped improve the health of the nearby Four Mile Run stream.

Because The Arlington was built around 1950, before buildings were required to contain and treat runoff, uncontrolled surges of water from roadways and rooftops were wiping out plants and the worm populations that feed fish in Four Mile Run. Plus, the patchy earth was visible from about 10 units.

Thus, last spring, Winquist and a few owners dug a raingarden  consisting of a man-made depression in the ground, filled with native shrubs and flowers. The garden drained the runoff, so storm water now gradually seeps back into the ground, instead of contributing to the ongoing decay of the Four Mile Run ecosystem

and the Chesapeake Bay.

The effort was led by her neighbor Jim Hurley, who approached Winquist -- in her Arlington County capacity -- about building a raingarden two years ago. Only later did the two learn they lived in the same development.

Hurley, 49, an organization development consultant who has lived at the 518-unit condos for 15 years, had to nudge his conservative condo board to let him excavate the eyesore and build a raingarden.

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