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Green Building on the Rise

As energy prices continue to rise, more and more housing consumers in the U.S. are looking for ways to save money on home energy costs. VOA's Jeff Swicord reports on an environmentally friendly, green building movement in the United States.

From high-rise apartment buildings to single-family homes, so-called "green building" is the hottest trend in architectural design today. Simply put, green building takes into account the energy efficiency of the design and the environmental sustainability of the materials used.

Susan Piedmont-Palladino is an architect and curator at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. She explains the concept of green building. "Green building is thinking about where it comes from and where it goes. That goes for the material as well as the energy. How are you getting the energy, what systems are you using to heat your house and cool your house? And where are the waste products going to end up?"

The National Building Museum has assembled part of a green house designed by California architect Michele Kaufman as part of its exhibit on green building. Susan Palladino points out some of its green features. "The first one to notice is this generous overhang."

The exterior of the house is designed to maximize or limit solar exposure during different times of the year. "This overhang keeps the high summer sun off the glass. And then the sun in the winter is, of course, a little bit lower. The sun in the winter can slide or glide, it is The Glide House, can glide right under the overhang and warm up the interior," Piedmont-Palladino says.

The materials and design inside the house are equally important to its green character. The exhibition emphasizes the choices people make when building, designing and furnishing a home. "Some of the furniture is eco resin, which is a recycled material. And all of the upholsteries, the fabrics, they minimize out-gassing, minimize sort of nasty toxins that are sometimes hidden in the things we buy."

The flooring is made of bamboo, which is the fastest-growing plant on the earth and considered a renewable resource. The lighting in the house is all fiber-optic, which gives off less heat than a conventional light bulb. "And it consumes vastly less energy than typical lighting."

The kitchen countertops are made from recycled paper.

The U.S. Green Building Council is an organization made up of representatives from the building industry. It has come up with something called LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Certification. LEED Certification is a way of measuring green design performance.

"The dishwasher and the washer are both Energy Star appliances which reduces the energy consumption…"

The Alta, a new condominium development by builder P.N. Hoffman in Washington D.C., is the first LEED certified condominium development in the city.

Shawn Seaman is a vice president with P. N. Hoffman. He has been interested in the green building concept for many years. He says it was not hard to convince his company that green was the way to go with the Alta project.

"It has actually been a benefit for the company because it has been a marketable feature. And it separates us from the competition."

Consumer demand for green is increasing and other builders in Washington plan to offer green projects. Susan Piedmont Palladino says the next step is to design entire green communities that are self-sufficient and generate their own renewable energy.