Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ecological construction has economic benefits

Portland Press Herald
Maine Voices

When it comes to building homes large or compact, there's no reason not to go green.

Justin Benjamin Pollard
December 4, 2007

I read with great interest the article entitled "Unaffordably
Green" (Maine Sunday Telegram, Nov. 4) because, as the founder
of an ecologically sustainable construction company, my
livelihood depends upon the premise that building in an
environmentally responsible manner can indeed be affordable.

The article was a thoughtful examination of some of the key
issues facing the ecological building movement today, in
particular the balance between financial cost and sustainability,
and the question of whether the mainstream construction
industry can indeed become more environmentally friendly.

However, by focusing on a single project, the Cranberry Ridge
house built by Wright-Ryan, I believe the article may have left
readers with the impression that building or buying a "green"
house is necessarily an expensive option open only to wealthy

The Cranberry Ridge house -- a five-bedroom home in South
Freeport listed at $895,000 -- is in fact beyond the reach of
most Maine families. But the house, at 3,200 square feet, is also
considerably larger than most single family residences, and
many environmentally friendly homes have been built in Maine
that are well within the price range of typical home buyers.

This year an architect built a very sustainable, 1,100-square foot
home for himself in South Portland for $254,000, including the
lot -- to name just one of many examples of low-cost green
building that have taken place in the state.

Many features of an ecological house in fact make excellent
sense from an economic perspective. A solar domestic hot water
system can be installed for approximately $5,000, after federal
and state tax rebates, and will typically save the owner $750 a
year or more in heating oil costs.

This payback rate of 15 percent far outperforms not only
comparably risk-free 30-year Treasury bonds (4.5 percent), but
even outperforms the much riskier Standard & Poor's 500-stock
average as an investment option (7.1 percent over the past 10

Other green building options, such as building thicker and
better-insulated walls, conserving electricity through efficient
appliances and installing high-efficiency windows, also offer
attractive payback rates.

These payback rates become even higher when one factors in
rising fuel prices, due to steadily increasing demand for oil and
gas in China and other emerging markets, as well as mortgage
interest tax deductions available to homeowners.

To be sure, other sustainable building components can
significantly increase the cost of a project without comparable
future savings.

Using low volatile organic compound paints costs more than
using standard paints, for example, but what is the financial
value of preventing childhood asthma or other respiratory
ailments as a result of improved indoor air quality?

Similarly, many of Wright-Ryan's admirable efforts to reduce the
carbon footprint and consumption of raw materials in the
Cranberry Ridge house had an overall positive impact on the
environment of Maine and the world.

Surely this contribution carries significant financial value to
many home purchasers.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington
D.C.-based trade association, the built environment accounts for
36 percent of the energy consumed and 30 percent of the raw
materials used in America, while construction waste and
demolition debris amounts to 30 percent of all of the waste

It could be argued that no single aspect of our lives has more
impact on the natural environment than the built environment in
which we live.

In fact, can we afford not to build in an ecologically sustainable

— Special to the Press Herald

Copyright © 2007 Blethen Maine Newspapers

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