Sat, May 24, 2008 - Page 16 News List

Eco makeovers

Eco-friendly construction materials have been buzzwords since the 1970s, but mainly for commercial buildings. Now, because of rising energy costs and environmental concerns, green concepts are becoming popular in the residential market


Barbara Goldman, top, at her home in Marblehead, Massachusetts. When Goldman redid her luxury ocean-front house recently, she insisted that the renovations be as eco-sensitive as possible, from the outside, above, to the inside, left.

PHOTO: NY Times News Service

Barbara Goldman is no garden-variety environmentalist. When she rehabbed her luxury ocean-front home recently, she insisted that it be eco-sensitive from the basement to the rooftop.

That’s not an easy assignment when green supplies typically cost more and can be harder to find. But Goldman was not deterred.

Consider her roof (recycled rubber), her kitchen counter (Silestone) and her floors (a domestic walnut harvested from old trees that were about to die). Her Bosch washing machine, depending on the load, can use a mere eight liters of water. Her pipes are cast iron, not plastic.

“I don’t claim to be a purist,” said Goldman, a 45-year-old attorney. “I don’t eat all organic. I still wear nail polish. I’ve just chosen one area of my life, my house, to make a difference. If we can be an example for other projects, that’s a great thing.”

Eco-friendly construction materials, from solar energy to recycled wood, have been buzzwords since the 1970s. But until recently, green building has been most popular on the commercial level, not so much on the residential side. “There’s more opportunity for saving resources when you’re dealing with a 50-story office tower than a single home,” said Paul Marquis, education coordinator for the NEXUS Green Building Resource Center in Boston, a project of the nonprofit Green Roundtable.

But with today’s rising energy costs and environmental concerns, the residential market is coming around.

“In the past six months, interest in green residential homes has really taken off,” said Marquis, who has seen 5,000 visitors come to view green samples at his Downtown Crossing reference library since it opened in February 2007. “The market drivers are the soaring costs of energy and a recognition that global warming is a problem we need to address.”

For the first time last fall, the nonprofit US Green Building Council established LEED certification (leadership in energy and environmental design) for residential homes. The national rating system for green building design and construction has been in place for commercial spaces since 2000.

To date, there are 548 LEED-certified homes in the US, including 19 in the state of Massachusetts.

Goldman, whose home just received its LEED certification, began the gut renovation of her home shortly after she and her husband purchased their 138-year-old, three-bedroom Victorian home in August of 2005. The 600m2 house, which has five bathrooms and an elevator, overlooks the ocean.

Goldman’s top priorities were energy efficiency and indoor air quality. “It was important for us, if we were going to be on the water, that we felt warm. The previous owners completely obscured their view. The windows were covered and it was dark. In my opinion, it was because it was so cold in here.”

Given rising energy costs, the couple pulled out the existing electrical and heating systems. “We figured how could we not explore alternative energy?” she said.

What followed was quite an exploration. She settled on a geothermal heating system, which meant drilling two 150m wells in the yard. The heating system has six zones so only the occupied sections of the house are heated. A radiant heating system warms the first floor. The walls are insulated with Icynene (a foam insulation that is applied as a liquid and then expands to fill every crevice).

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