April 9, 2013

Coffee with KC McGurren, Executive Director of EarthCraft Virginia (Part 2)

In continuing my conversation with Katherine Carroll “KC” McGurren, Executive Director of EarthCraft™ Virginia, KC discussed current and future advancements in sustainable energy efficient construction.

1. Give us an example of a multifamily development that went beyond the expectations of EarthCraft.
Several project teams have successfully gone above and beyond their expectations, but one outstanding example is the Better Housing Coalition’s Lincoln Mews. Prior to its redevelopment in 2008, approximately 65% of the development’s 245 affordable housing units were vacant and in disrepair. With the help of VHDA and architectural guidance from Community Design Studio, the project was able to begin a rigorous renovation. After the improvements were made, the project achieved an overall energy-efficiency improvement of 60%. As a result, the tenant’s utility bill was reduced from an average of $150 to only $45 a month! The property features Energy Star windows, high efficiency on demand water heaters, high efficiency HVAC equipment and quality insulation, all of which greatly reduced the utility bills of the tenants. They also thoroughly sealed the building’s envelope and ducts to prevent air infiltration and leakage.
Lincoln Mews is a renovated apartment building equipped
with energy-efficient appliances and technology.

In a side conversation, Bob Newman, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Better Housing Coalition, reflected, “The technical assistance provided by EarthCraft during both the design and construction phases was invaluable in ensuring the planned performance outcomes were actually achieved in practice.”

2. What are advantages of using EarthCraft in preserving or creating affordable housing? 
By encouraging green building practices, communities integrate healthier buildings that are durable, comfortable and offer lower utility costs for tenants. Green building standards enhance the overall look and feel of buildings, often overcoming the NIMBYism (Not in My Backyard) associated with affordable housing. Green building also promotes stable sustainable communities, enhances a sense of place and brings additional investment to the community. An EarthCraft home is healthier and more affordable to live in; building green ensures we are good environmental stewards.

3. What advice you do have for those who hesitate when considering green building? 
The costs for green building vary based on the program, and does not automatically translate into higher development costs. In many cases we find opportunities for developers to save money through our design review process.

4. What's next for EarthCraft Virginia? Have there been any considerations for mixed-use developments?
(KC highlighted that in the mix of the new urbanism movement attention to buildings’ energy use has diminished.) The EarthCraft House programs strive to bring attention back to the structures, focusing on energy efficiency and sustainability as the building blocks for sustainable communities. EarthCraft Virginia is launching a Net-Zero Certification Pilot program. This program, the first of its kind, will certify any residential building that produces at least as much energy as it uses in a year. This groundbreaking program’s success will be verified during initial construction and monitored after one year of occupancy through utility tracking and energy generation analysis. (In addition to the Net-Zero Certification program, KC mentioned that the recent launch of the EarthCraft Light Commercial certification program, which allows commercial spaces to follow a sustainable pathway. By incorporating the new program and the existing residential program, EarthCraft Virginia will be able to certify mixed-use developments.)

5. Lastly as the Executive Director of EarthCraft and starting out as an intern, what advice do you have for others interested in entering the field of green building?
It is important not to let perceptions alter your goals. I urge professionals interested in green building to obtain a diverse knowledge base, and to build strong relationships with others in the industry. As the building industry evolves, green building professionals will be asked to develop innovative solutions, promote healthy sustainable communities and enhance community connectivity.

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