The five rehabilitated rowhouses are expected to exceed by 15 percent the standards established by the 2003 International Energy Conservation Code, while the three new homes will be about 35 percent above code standards. One existing home and one new home will be done without the added green components to provide a baseline for comparison.
"One of our main goals is to see if we can incorporate energy-efficient and green features into these homes at low to moderate increases in construction costs," said Auburn. "The project will allow us not only to showcase the benefits of green building, but educate the people involved in the process."
According to TerraLogos' Schaefer, applying an all-inclusive approach and focusing on the whole building design is essential. "Energy efficiency, for example, is critical to being green," she said. "If you don't get that right, then it doesn't matter how much recycled lumber you're using in your structure."
But not all industry specialists follow the same course. Polly Bart, who launched Butler-based Greenbuilders Inc. last year, agrees that a holistic approach is ideal, but she doesn't necessarily try to be pure in her projects.
"I personally am going to use a green product when and where I can, even if it is the only [environment-friendly] thing in the entire house," she said. "I want green in my projects, but I also want to be accessible and practical. People shouldn't be scared away."
Bart recently renovated a home in Columbia where, because many of the resource-efficient options were too costly for the client, she put her "green" energies into one part of the project: converting a screened porch into an office by building a wall made of straw bale, a material she says is inexpensive and an excellent insulator.
In January, the National Association of Home Builders published new voluntary homebuilding guidelines to assist mainstream builders in the construction of resource-efficient homes. The guidelines offer green solutions in areas such as lot design, energy and water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, site planning and land development.
The idea, according to NAHB's Dooley, is for homebuilders associations in cities such as Baltimore to use the guidelines as a blueprint to create their own customized green building programs, like Built Green Colorado in Denver, Earth Craft House in Atlanta, or the Green Building Program in Austin, Texas.
Data from the home builders association show that between 1990 and 2001 nearly 19,000 green homes were built according to standards established by the 28 localities where green building programs exist. In 2002 alone, more than 13,000 homes were built in those same areas and, according to Dooley, more than 47,000 green homes had been erected by the start of 2004.
The Green Building Initiative, a not-for-profit education project providing support for the NAHB's green building programs, has identified Baltimore as one of its 2005 target markets. Later this year the organization will sponsor seminars and work with homebuilders associations to educate local builders on the goals and benefits of Earth-friendly construction.
Additionally, the U.S. Green Building Council is at work on a rating system for residential construction that is similar to its voluntary energy and environmental design standards for commercial buildings.
"The residential program will use a best-practices approach," said James Hackler, the building council's energy and environmental design homes program manager. "The goal is to reinforce what a lot of builders are already doing right, and enlighten them about what they might be able to do better."
Some common features of a "green" home
Composting toilets - use little or no water; waste goes to underground tank where it is treated for reuse as compost
Rainwater collection system
Rooftop photovoltaic panels - convert sunlight into electricity to create energy and heat water
Recycled-content - carpeting, flooring and/or roofing
Passive solar design - takes advantage of the sun's warmth and light to supplement heating and lighting
A green, planted roof - helps insulate the house and reduce water runoff
Radiant floor heating - circulates solar-heated water through in-floor tubing throughout the house
Pellet stove - burns recycled wood pellets as a primary source of heat
Water-conserving showerheads and fixtures
Gray water system - reuses dish, bath and laundry water for other things like landscape irrigation
Energy-efficient cooling systems
Natural alternatives to traditional flooring (cork and bamboo, for example)