Bowie model's recycled materials conserve energy


December 06, 1992|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff writer

BOWIE -- It's been dubbed the "garbage house" -- because old plastic milk jugs and newspapers were used to build it -- but it looks like a typical upscale suburban home.

It's the National Association of Home Builders' "resource conservation home," a 3,600-square-foot model unveiled last week to demonstrate energy-efficient building methods. The goal is to conserve resources by using recycled materials and saving energy, for example, by using alternative energy sources to heat the house.

The home, which cost $200,000 to build, will be open to visitors for about a year before being put up for sale.

"We think of it as a living laboratory," said Kent Colton, chief executive of the homebuilders' trade group, based in Washington.

On the surface, the two-story house looks like any other in an upscale subdivision -- with a two-car garage, finished basement, four bedrooms, two bathrooms and two powder rooms.

"There is very little that looks different --that's the whole idea," says Ralph Lee Smith, a spokesman for the National Association of Home Builders research center, located in Upper Marlboro.

The house was designed to save energy, enhance durability, lower maintenance and, in some cases, reduce costs.

"This house, dedicated to resource conservation, will have a big influence on homebuilding in the 21st century," predicted Robert Arquilla, chairman of the National Housing Endowment, the philanthropic arm of the homebuilders' trade group.

Sponsored both by the endowment as well as several trade groups and an array of manufacturers promoting unusual building products, the model house should help push some of the products it uses onto the new-home construction market in the near future, Mr. Arquilla said.

Metal studs, rather than the usual wooden studs, are a promising element of the model home's design, Mr. Colton said. The home's metal framing is made principally from recycled scrap steel, derived from such sources as old cars. Use of recycled steel in home construction would reduce the dependence of the homebuilding industry on wood.

"There's always a question about lumber prices," said Mr.

Colton, noting that lumber prices had been especially prone to gyration in the wake of hurricanes in Florida, Louisiana and Hawaii.

Mr. Colton also stressed the potential of the model home's "ground source heat pump," a high-efficiency heat pump that draws heat from the earth and can be used in climates throughout the United States. Such a heat pump costs about $10,000, about 40 percent more than conventional heat pumps when first installed. Still, the initial investment would be worth it to a longtime user who would save month after month on electric bills, its promoters point out.

Not all of the products in use in the resource conservation house have the bugs worked out of them yet, said Liza Bowles, president of the homebuilders' research center.

For instance, wall board composed of recycled waste paper and gypsum is a good idea, but poses a problem for wall board hangers who face more difficulty scoring and breaking such drywall than they do the conventional sort, Ms. Bowles said.

Landscape timbers made from recycled materials and used in the model home also have not been perfected, according to Ms. Bowles. The Florida manufacturer is seeking ways to produce such timbers -- used for decks, railings, columns, fences and trim -- so they are more uniform in shape and size, she said.

But Ms. Bowles said the point of the model-home exercise is to test and improve products.

"The whole concept is to give people feedback," she observed.

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