By Nora Firestone

The 1,712-square-foot house near Norfolk State University awaits final review this summer by the U.S. Green Building Council for official Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

Meeting the council’s required energy/resource-saving and environmental standards felt like the “responsible” way to build, but keeping “green” affordable and attractive were equally important, said builders John Porter, Nick Shawyer and Lucas Doan of Green Build It (

The men formed the Norfolk-based company in January, pooling years of experience in architecture, building, remodeling and engineering, and share a common desire to help improve the environment, innovate and set new trends within the growing field of sustainable building.

The men worked hard to keep the home affordable, Shawyer said.

From the beginning, they asked, “What can we do to design this house to take advantage of all we can do within this limited budget?” he added.

Easy to spot amid the neighborhood’s older structures, the three-bedroom, two bath house may appear unassuming. But it’s quick to engage passers-by with its natural aesthetics, only to hook those who enter with its inherent smarts and inner – as in even behind the walls – beauty.

The traditional floor plan boasts a nice flow and relatively spacious common areas, as well as attractive and environmentally-friendly materials and appliances.

Paint with low volatile organic compounds provides health benefits to residents and the environment, and creates a neutral backdrop for a mix of plush carpet, ceramic tile and laminate flooring.

The kitchen and bathrooms feature flat-paneled maple cabinetry with a natural water-based finish, water-saving fixtures, Energy Star appliances and short plumbing runs.

A high-efficiency HVAC system switches from using in-home air to drawing fresh, outside air when outdoor temperatures rise or drop to offer free heating and cooling.

Proper location of argon-filled windows with low-E glass support good insulation and the home’s exceptional use of passive solar energy.

Strategic placement of the house itself, on an east/west axis, enables southern exposure, a key to optimizing the sun’s energy, Shawyer said. In addition, solar shadings and wide soffits above windows block much of the summer’s high heat and light, yet allow winter’s “lower sun to come deep into the house.”

“It’s a very good example of value engineering,” Porter said. “Every step of the way, we said, ‘This is one way to do it,’ but can we be more cost-efficient?”

Usually they could, he said, pointing out extra caulking detail within the home’s frame and sheathing, insulated water pipes and a conduit for solar-power-readiness when such units become more affordable to homeowners – all easy to implement at low-cost. Value engineering afforded implementation of more expensive, noncompromise items, such as two-part spray foam insulation in essential high-air-migration areas, found in the attic and around light fixtures and wall outlets.

Simple framing efficiencies reduced labor costs and materials waste, and were designed to reduce energy loss in the future. They include building to even dimensions within a simple modular design, meaning that much of the lumber and other materials remained intact rather than getting cut to size. Six inches of wasted lumber here, 8 inches of block there, It all adds up quickly at a less conscientiously-planned site, eventually landing in a fill, the men explained.

“This stuff’s important,” Shawyer said. “As builders we have to be careful. We use a lot of resources. We have an effect on the environment.”

They also used “California corners” in framing, reducing energy loss to thermal bridging and allowing for more efficient insulation.

Outside light-colored roofing, siding and pavement reduce heat absorption and radiation. A permeable driveway will reduce runoff, while landscape will soon feature native, drought-resistant plants.

“This is not cutting edge,” said Shawyer, 39, who also owns DesignBuildIt, a remodeling company. More sophisticated designs and more modern materials exist, “but we had to keep it simple” and affordable.” Therefore, it can be repeated quite easily.”

Of particular interest to Green Build It, Porter said, is assisting in green upgrades of older area communities in need of improvement.

“I think it’s smart for us to be environmentally sensitive and smart about the way we construct our homes,” Doan said. “A lot of other cities (nationwide) are way ahead of the curve as far as green building.”

Porter expects the home, at 1434 Lead St., to be completed by mid-July and to receive a high-silver or low-gold LEED rating, sometime around mid-August. It’s listed at $179,900 through Realtor Julie Humphrey of Exit Realty Specialists.

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