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It's Easy Being Green

He suggests other condo owners interested in raingardens may need to plug the property-value benefit of this kind of improvement to get their condo boards to consent.

"In my opinion, this work is worth doing on its own for its own sake and a side benefit is increased property value," Hurley said. "However, individuals who might want to champion a project like this, who are members of condo associations, might have to find a strategy that works best for their boards. And certainly a financial case can be made for undertakings like this."

His two-level two-bedroom cost him about $100,000 and is now going for more than $350,000. Hurley reports that real-estate agents who have sold units looking out onto the raingarden have told him that the improvement added value to the homes' prices.

Winquist added, "Another point that condo boards should consider is that this type of storm-water management can be a lot cheaper than traditional methods such as installing French drains or additional storm drainage inlets."

In addition to Arlington County, the D.C. city council may soon dangle a carrot to encourage eco-friendly building. In November, Chairman Linda Cropp and three other council members introduced a bill that offers incentives for the developer if project plans contain documentation showing that LEED certification will be attained by the project's end. The program would apply to offices, multi-unit residential buildings and mixed-use developments.

One condo company thinks it has a head start on the green condo competition coming to D.C.

The Alta at Thomas Circle condos, developed by PN Hoffman, will have energy-efficient air conditioning, low-toxicity paints and two green roofs.

The tops of the second and 13th floors will contribute a total 4,500 square feet of plants. The roofs should stave off repairs by decreasing exposure to the sun's ultraviolet radiation. Most regular roofs fail because UV rays break down the flexibility of the roofs.

Remaining studios at the nearly sold-out 126-unit Alta start from the upper $300s. Anticipated delivery is this summer.

PN Hoffman touts that the Alta is projected to be the first LEED certified condo in the District. The company is doing this now to attract purchasers for upcoming green condos.

The new PN Hoffman site explains green building's benefits, adding that the developer anticipates incorporating green features into all future buildings.

Shawn Seaman, vice president of acquisitions and development for PN Hoffman, said, "We're using it as corporate marketing right now ... and hopefully the consumers will learn from it and seek out builders who do green construction and give us a competitive advantage."

Profit-making is another green condo feature, according to residents who bought in the region's first LEED-certified condo development, Eastern Village.

Stephan Sylvan, 42, signed a purchase agreement for a three-bedroom unit at Eastern Village in Silver Spring in the fall of 2003. Between then and now, units have exploded in value by 70 to 80 percent, he said. A two-bedroom loft unit at Eastern Village currently carries an asking price of $489,000.

"Our property values have actually scared us by shooting up so much. We were afraid many people would not be able to afford to live here in the future," Sylvan said. Eastern Village's residents had all agreed at the outset that they wanted a diverse community with people from all socioeconomic levels.

For buyers questioning when to invest in green, Sylvan said, "The answer is jump quickly. For sellers, spend a little time exposing people to the world of green and you might surprise yourself by the prices you can get."

Since moving in to Eastern Village on Halloween day 2004, Sylvan, the coordinator of partnership programs for the Environmental Protection Agency, has also noticed the intangible qualities of green condo living.

"We have a two-year daughter and it feels good that the chances that she's going to be poisoned by where she lives are low," he said. "This is finally an opportunity to live my values."

Eastern Village performed exceptionally well on the LEED grading system, becoming only one of five multifamily housing communities in the country to reach Silver status. Platinum and Gold certifications, the greenest of the green awards, have not been awarded to any condos.

The 56-unit urban retrofit of an existing office building has carpeting made out of recycled soda bottles rather than petroleum, but no one would notice. Energy bills are kept under control by using geothermal heat pumps, which harness the relatively constant temperature of the subsurface of the Earth as a source of heating and cooling for the building.

The building contains low-flow shower heads and low-flow bathroom faucets. However, the kitchen water comes out full strength.

"With your kitchen faucets, you don't want to go too low with the lower-flow faucets because when you're filling up a pot, it could take 100 years," said Sandra Leibowitz Earley, a LEED-accredited professional and principal at Sustainable Design Consulting, who worked on Eastern Village and many other current local condo projects.

Sylvan gushed over his home, the first he has ever owned, saying, "There's a real sense of pride. It's like you're the first person to have an iPod in your circle of friends."

He advises the naysayers and cynics to take a closer look at buildings like these.

"The old way of thinking about green is outdated -- except for the mandatory 'you must eat granola at every meal' policy," Sylvan joked.

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