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Green Buildings

By Sacha Cohen
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 6, 2006

Would you spend more money on your home if you thought it would cause less damage to the environment? If so, you're like the vast majority of Americans. A January poll by the American Institute of Architects showed that 90 percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay $4,000 or $5,000 more for a house that would use less energy and protect the Earth.

To meet demand for greener structures, architects and builders are increasingly incorporating ecologically sound practices into new developments, both public and private.

Want to experience green building in action? Here are a few locations to check out:

AMERICAN SOCIETY OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS. By covering the roof of its building with black-eyed Susans, stonecrop, cactuses, sumacs and dozens of other types of grasses, perennials and succulents, the professional association is helping to reduce heating and cooling costs, and improve community air and water quality.

"Landscape architects are leading many green roof projects across the U.S. and abroad, so it was only fitting that ASLA provide a demonstration project on this sustainable technology that can cure so many urban ills," says Executive Vice President Nancy Somerville. "We hope to provide a catalyst for more green roof development in Washington and beyond."

Call for info on public tours. 636 Eye St. NW. 202-898-2444. http://www.asla.org/ .

ECOVILLAGE OF LOUDOUN COUNTY. This 180-acre community, with houses beginning in the low $400,000s, preserves open space and uses solar power and environmentally sensitive technologies to conserve water and energy. Homes in the community have superior insulation in walls and roofs, as well as high-tech ventilation systems that reduce heating and cooling requirements, while maintaining excellent indoor air quality. Construction practices in and around the community preserve existing forest, and protect wildlife, soil and water, while landscaping emphasizes native plants, ground cover and wildflowers.

Tours can be organized via the phone or Web. 12606 Trillium Glen Lane, Lovettsville. 540-822-9449. http://www.ecovillages.com/ .

HOTEL MADERA. One completely eco-friendly floor (the sixth floor) features water-efficient showers, lights, recycled papers and recycling bins for guests to use. Plus, all hotel rooms are cleaned with eco-friendly cleaning products. The entire Kimpton hotel group is moving toward more ecologically sound practices at all properties across the country. Visit http://www.kimptonhotels.com/cares_earthcare.aspx for more details.

1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW. 202-296-7600. http://www.hotelmadera.com/ .

NATIONAL BUILDING MUSEUM. "The Green House" exhibit includes a full-size, furnished version of a modern prefab home that features environmentally friendly design and materials including bamboo flooring, countertops made from recycled paper and energy-smart appliances. There are also miniature replicas of 20 green residences from around the world and interactive elements in the exhibit that help visitors learn about the five principles of sustainable design. The exhibit runs through June 2007.

401 F St. NW. 202-272-2448. http://www.nbm.org/ .

NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL. This nonprofit walks the walk with a building that features a Freon-free air conditioning system; formaldehyde-free carpets and ceiling tiles; countertops made of soybeans and recycled newspapers; an energy-efficient lighting system; and energy-saving computers and appliances. The features of the building help cut energy consumption by 50 percent.

Call to arrange a visit. 1200 New York Ave. NW. 202-289-6868. http://www.nrdc.org/ .

NUSTA SPA. This space proves that you don't need to sacrifice aesthetics when you go green. Wood salvaged from the oak beams of an old barn in rural Pennsylvania is used for the walls, while the spa's maple flooring is from a sustainable forest. A redesigned HVAC system removes more than three times as many particles as standard filters for superior indoor air quality. And the spa only uses biodegradable laundry detergent, nontoxic cleaning products and non-chlorine bleach. "Since we're all about health and wellness, it just made sense for the spa itself to be a healthy space," says owner Elizabeth Snowdon.

1129 20th St. NW. 202-530-5700. http://www.nustaspa.com/ .

ROBERTSON PARK YOUTH CENTER. Boasting insulation made from recycled blue jeans and floors fashioned from recycled tires and rubber, the new youth center is Gaithersburg's first public green building. Home to all kinds of sports activities, a computer-study room and a rock-climbing wall, its environmentally sensitive features include a geothermal heating and cooling system that saves energy and reduces air pollution; cabinets made from rapidly renewable wheatboard; and light sensors to control lighting and save energy. Conforming to standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council, the building also has educational signs that highlight environmentally friendly aspects and provide tips on how everyone can include green features in their homes.

801 Rabbitt Rd., Gaithersburg. 301-258-6166. http://www.gaithersburgmd.gov/ .

Tips for Eco-Friendly Living

Not everyone has the luxury of hiring an architect to build an eco-chic dream home. So, what can you do to make a difference? Here are a few suggestions:

· Plant shade trees and shrubs around your house. The foliage helps keep your home cool in the summer, and lets light through in the winter when the tree branches are bare.

· Select materials that have minimal or nontoxic properties, and that don't shed dust or fiber.

· Seal gaps or cracks in your home where moisture can get in, and heat and cooling can leak out.

· Turn down the thermostat in winter months. Lowering it by just one degree can reduce heating energy costs by about 4 percent. Raise the thermostat in summer for similar savings.

· Conserve energy by purchasing major appliances with an Energy Star rating.

· Install low-flow shower heads, faucets and toilets. According to the National Building Museum, if all households used low-flow toilets, Americans would save 2.1 trillion gallons of water and $11.3 million every day.

· Buy nontoxic paints, carpet and cleaners.

S.C.

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