News: Greening Greenhills

One local village is doing more than green PR

Potterhill Homes

Potterhill Homes and the village of Greenhills are touting this LEED demonstration home as the future of "green building."

Going green is an easy thing to fake because many people think being environmentally responsible begins and ends with recycling plastic water bottles. Green as a PR stunt doesn't fly in the Village of Greenhills, which is committed to utilizing green building practices for residential urban infill development.

Oscar Hoffmann, Greenhills mayor and a self-titled cradle-to-grave resident, says the neighborhood is excited about utilizing new green building practices and standards to build on its heritage as an environmentally responsible community.

Referring to other green communities started by the federal government in the 1930s as an example of how to develop urban neighborhoods, Hoffmann says Greenhills is the only one that still has its greenbelt "intact."

"The greenbelt is the parks, the open area and the woods surrounding," he says. "It's only appropriate that we would try to utilize the new concept of green building. This is just one step farther in a major plan to remain green and continue to get greener."

Leadership in energy and design (LEED) is a green building standard that offers certifications for homes and businesses that incorporate different kinds of environmentally sound building practices. Greenhills added LEED standards to its ordinances earlier this year, and while Hoffmann characterizes them as "not that strict," he says having the guidelines in place is a way to keep the community moving in the right direction.

"We jumped onto the LEED system because the green concept in a green town just go hand in hand," he says.

"I have not heard one negative thing. I just had a call from one of the citizens from town. She was at the Potterhill green house and she said, 'I just left. It's absolutely gorgeous. I just called my husband and told him to get over here and see this.' "

The "green house" Hoffmann refers to is the model home for the first urban infill project in Greenhills at Dewitt Landing. And the success is due in part to the design of the homes as much as the environmentally responsible building practices, according to Carolyn Rolfes, president of Potterhill Homes.

"They're all craftsman style bungalows or Victorian, an older style architecture," she says. "If you put these kinds of houses on a great big lot, you're going to lose the architecture."

Very little yard and lots of house is cost effective for builders, and it's "also more environmentally friendly because you're getting a high density on the land that you're using," Rolfes says.

But that kind of "reach out and touch your neighbor's house" proximity can create problems, such as unwanted noise. Rolfes says practical issues like that don't have to be lost in the green building process.

"We use standard new wool insulation, which is a blown-in insulation that's made from recycled newspaper, and it's very acoustically superior to regular fiberglass insulation," she explains. "Since we're building on smaller lots it's very helpful so you don't hear your neighbors in their kitchens. It's also used in the interior walls.

"The insulation is mold resistant so that even if you did get a wall leak it's going to stop the mold before it ever starts. Because it helps stop some of the wind penetration, it is actually more effective."

With the cost of gas and electricity going up with no end in sight, Rolfes says geothermal heating and cooling is frequently the first thing many people ask about. The "LEED demonstration house," which serves as the model for the infill development, has a geothermal system. It's expected to have an energy bill of $65 a month versus the average $220 a month of a similar sized home.

"What a geothermal heating and cooling system does is it uses the earth's core temperature to either heat or cool your home," Rolfes explains. "What they do is drill down 150 feet and they put very solid plastic tubes down into the holes and it'll flow water through that hole down into the ground."

With a constant temperature of 55 to 65 degrees, Rolfes says using the earth's temperature to heat the water is what keeps the energy bill so low. That savings translates into the justification for building green when it's more expensive than traditional construction.

"We do that cost analysis of 'What's it going to add to my mortgage versus how much am I really going to save? What is my future maintenance bill going to save me?' We try to keep the payback, at the very maximum, five years," Rolfes says.

That long-term view of investing in green building is exactly what Greenhills village is looking at, so its next step is to get a "LEED for Neighborhoods" certification for Dewitt Landing. Rolfes compliments the village leadership for spearheading the effort.

"Greenhills is one of a small handful in our area that's trying to go for that," she says. "So Greenhills is very progressive."

To learn more about green residential construction, attend the Potterhill's Green Seminars at 1-3 p.m. Saturday and April 19 at 22 DeWitt St. No reservations needed.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.