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May Look Like Any Other, But This House Is All Green
By JIM HICKEY

At first glance, the recently completed new home at 15 Green avenue in Oak Bluffs looks like many others you might find in this quiet and scenic East Chop neighborhood.

It has a wraparound porch, a perfectly manicured lawn, an outdoor shower and plenty of space; there is a large kitchen and five spacious bedrooms, not counting the open third floor that would be perfect for bunk beds or a pool table.

But look closer and you will find this isn’t your average three-story, three-and-a-half-bath Vineyard dream house.

The stones in the first-floor fireplace, for example, were all reclaimed from Island sources. The brick on the outside chimney was recycled from various Vineyard buildings, while the faded wood mantel was once part of a barn in Chilmark. All the wood floorboards were harvested within a 500-mile radius of the Vineyard, and there is an added layer of blown-in insulation hidden behind each wall.

You might think the home has all the earmarks of a fair exhibit or an attraction at Epcot Center: the amazing Home of the Future, complete with energy efficient appliances in the kitchen and an on-demand water heater in the basement.

And in one sense, you’d be right. The home built by Bill Potter of Squash Meadow Construction and his wife Kerry Quinlan-Potter is the first home on the Vineyard to achieve the gold certification standard of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

It is a marvel of efficiency, from the Energy Star lighting right down to the special drought-resistant grass.

But in another sense, Mr. Potter explained this week, this green home on Green avenue — aptly enough nicknamed Green on Green — really isn’t that revolutionary. All the so-called cutting edge appliances and construction techniques are by now commonplace, he explained, and can be incorporated into most new construction with relative ease.

“You hear contractors use the term green construction all the time now, it’s like the new talking point,” he said while he and his wife gave the Gazette a tour of the house this week. “But I use another term, green washing. They say: okay, I will put bamboo floors in my home and call it a green house, but to me that’s not green construction; it takes a lot more than that.”

Not that Mr. Potter is criticizing his fellow contractors.

Although he is the only Island’s only LEED accredited contractor, he admits his decision to build the Island’s first LEED gold certified home was more the result of improvisation than inspiration. He was planning to sell the Green avenue lot last fall, just around the time the stock market crashed and the potential buyer pulled out of the deal.

“So there we were left with a piece of land and no agreement, and the market has totally crashed. And we were like, ‘What are we going to do now?’ So my wife had this idea: what if we built a totally green house on Green avenue and call it Green on Green? And it sort of made sense,” he said.

“It’s genius, right?” Ms. Quinlan-Potter piped in excitedly.

But once the couple began the LEED certification process about a year ago, it became clear the benefits of achieving the high environmental standard easily outweighed the detriments. The new home will be between 48 and 52 per cent more energy efficient than conventional homes, and will make up for the added construction costs in a relatively short period of time, Mr. Potter said.

And achieving the gold standard did not cost much more than conventional construction. The home cost less than $200 a square foot to build, and is now on the market for $1.425 million, a fair price for a home of this quality in the Vineyard market.

“In the end it really doesn’t cost that much more, not as much as you would think,” Mr. Potter said. “And it pays for itself over time. I don’t know why more builders aren’t doing this,” he added.

It begs the question: why isn’t everyone building green homes?

“That’s the question, right: if this is so cost effective and easy why isn’t everyone doing this? And the simple answer is, I don’t know,” said Mark Price, the sustainability specialist who verifies LEED certification for new homes.

“I can sit here and talk to you for three hours about the rating system, and nothing I say will sound illogical. Most people will say to themselves, why aren’t we doing that already? I think there is a disconnect between the buyers and the builders. People know how and what to ask when they go to buy a fuel-efficient car, but they don’t know what to ask when they buy an energy-efficient home.”

Mr. Price was on the Vineyard Tuesday to perform a series of tests on the Green on Green home to make sure it met the gold standard, including one that used a giant fan to measure how much air leaked through the window frames and under the door.

And although these tests would seem to indicate that LEED certification is difficult, Mr. Price said that is not the case.

The certification process is based on a system that awards points for reaching a variety of criteria. Points are awarded if a project uses only local materials, or a sustainable landscaping design, or enhanced insulation. Points are even awarded if the home is located near public transportation or a park, Mr. Price said.

“If you lose credits in one category you can make them up in another . . . this is not meant to be complicated,” he said.

Mrs. Quinlan-Potter said there has been a large educational component to building the Green on Green home. A large sign in front of the home describes the LEED process, and there are pamphlets people can take with them.

She works for Lighthouse Properties and is the listing agent for the home, and recently held an open house attended by more than 70 people — most of whom were just as interested in the LEED program as in purchasing the home. She started a blog on the Squash Meadow Construction Web site which has chronicled the Green on Green project from the start.

She said the process taught her that many people have misconceptions about green construction.

“People will tell me they are interested in making their homes energy efficient,” she said. “But when I tell them this is a LEED certified home they can’t believe it. For some reason they think it’s too big to be an energy efficient home. They look at the nice cabinets and the marble counters and they say: this is a green home?”

Mr. Price said there are many reasons for people to go green on the Vineyard.

“You can literally pick your anxiety. Whether someone is worried about national security, or peak oil, or they want a durable and comfortable home, or they want a high resale value, or they worry about their carbon footprint, or they lower your energy bills . . . you can address all of that [with an energy efficient home],” he said, adding:

“One question is why isn’t everyone doing this now. But another question is, why weren’t we doing this already?”