Green Building a Growth Industry In Maryland

By KATE ELIZABETH QUERAM, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS (March 10, 2008) - About a year ago, remodeling contractor Troy Chagnon began separating the waste materials from his job sites into neat piles - wood scraps here, old nails there, cardboard in the back.

At the end of each job, he bundles up the piles and hauls them off to specific recycling centers, a task that adds time to his projects. But Chagnon doesn't mind. In addition to recycling, he offers green building options like corkboard floors and cement countertops to his clients.

Chagnon is not alone. The industry for green buildings - broadly defined as structures that are built using environmentally friendly materials and promote the conservation of energy - has soared in Maryland over the past five years. The U.S. Green Building Council, which certifies projects and accredits professionals with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system (LEED), registered 149 new projects in Maryland last year, compared with 36 in 2006.

"In the last couple years we've seen really a lot of growth," said Ashley Katz, communications coordinator for the building council. "In 2002, we had 38 certified projects, and now we have 1,283."

The interest in green building has extended to the Maryland General Assembly, where Gov. Martin O'Malley has submitted a bill that calls for all public school and state-funded construction projects of a certain size to shoot for silver-level LEED certification.

LEED certification has four levels - LEED-certified, silver, gold and platinum - based on a number of criteria, including site sustainability, materials and resources, and energy and atmosphere. Of the four levels, silver is most common.

"Five years ago it was not uncommon for us to come down and talk about green buildings and have people say, 'We don't care what color the building is,'" said American Joe Miedusiewski, a lobbyist for American Institute of Architects, at a House hearing recently. "That's not the case now. We've come a long way."

Katz attributed the industry's growth to a number of factors.

"Green buildings in general are just environmentally responsible, and also profitable and healthier places to live and work," she said. Studies show that inhabitants of green buildings - whether apartment complexes or offices - experience reduced instances of asthma, take fewer sick days and are more productive.

Tenants of Maryland green buildings, including Connie Belfiore, interim head of the Friends Community School in College Park, have reported seeing these types of effects. The Quaker school moved into its new $9 million facility in September, and its 165 students have thrived in the complex, which sits on 17 acres adjacent to Greenbelt National Park.

"A lot of people have noticed how fresh and clean the building feels," Belfiore said. "Kids who used to suffer from allergies don't seem to in this building. People remark on how fresh the air is, and we've had fewer absences. [The kids] seem healthier, and that's got to contribute to better learning."

Belfiore attributed this to the facility's green features, which include straw bale insulation, a seeded roof to reduce nutrient runoff, waterless urinals, radiant tube heating, and an environmentally friendly ventilation system.

Teachers use the building as a tool to educate children about being environmentally conscious. Certain aspects of its green construction were left visible to facilitate these lessons.

"We've always been environmentally conscious, but since we've been here it's opened up a wealth of possibilities that we didn't have before," Belfiore said. "The ceiling exposes the beams, which are recycled and recyclable. The water that comes off the roof goes into bio-retention ponds that clarify and filter the water more. All classrooms face south, and the building is rounded, so it follows the sun."

The school's entryway also features what Belfiore called a "truth window" - a glass panel that shows the straw bale insulation at work. The building is expected to achieve silver-level LEED certification.

Though residences can also be certified through a separate LEED for Homes program, homeowners can make green improvements without pursuing certification or overhauling their entire building. Richard Reis, a self-described lifetime environmentalist, is one example.

Reis owns two houses in Takoma Park that are split into apartments, and he's installed green aspects on both. All light in the common areas comes from efficient fluorescent bulbs, which are hooked up to motion-sensor switches that turn them off when no one is present.

But Reis' most notable green feature is the solar water heater in one building, comprised of two 80-gallon tanks hooked up to four solar roof-mounted solar panels. The tanks look like conventional water heaters, but rely completely on the heat harnessed by the solar panels - which saves Reis about $100 per month in electricity costs.

He also has solar water heat at his own home in Colesville.

"It's as good as generating electricity, but a lot less expensive," said Reis, adding that the solar panels work in any weather. "Notice that it's pretty darn cold out here and those collectors are pretty warm."

Though the number of homes with features like Reis' are on the rise, exact statistics are difficult to find. The lack of prevalence of such homes may be due to a common perception that such developments are expensive.

While he concedes that installation costs are high - the system cost him around $5,000 after environmental tax credits - Reis maintains that, over time, it will save him money.

"Basically, it's really an excellent, excellent investment," he said, noting that as electricity prices continue to soar, the money he saves on bills each month will allow him to repay the installation costs in about four years - and after that, it's all profit.

As green building techniques become more mainstream, these kinds of options will be more widely available and costs will eventually go down, said Gary Groll, an advisor at the Green Building Institute in Jessup.

"None of this stuff is new. We've been doing this for decades," Groll said. "It's become a little bit more mainstream, but it's always tough to change the paradigm and the way people do business."

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