Rosemont tries to save the planet (and money, too)


As the green trend gains momentum, homeowners in the Rosemont neighborhood of Alexandria are looking to green technologies that can help them save money and eventually the planet as well.

Terence Hill hopes to have a zero-energy house when hes through with renovating, and eventually to even sell energy back to the power company. They call that net metering in the green world.

I just wanted to do the right thing, he said. There are two tiers of green measures, according to Hill. Tier one includes insulation, renewable flooring, enviro-friendly paint and energy-efficient appliances, which can be done at about the same cost as a conventional renovation.

Hill is going one step further, however, to tier two. This level of green includes geothermal heat pumps, solar water heating, energy-efficient lighting and the recirculation of water for flushing the toilets. Hills dedication is on the global scale. I dont expect to recoup my investment in this second tier of features, but the house will have made a statement and it was the right thing to do given global warming and the need to get off oil, said Hill. He expects all the work to be done in October.

Down the street, homeowners Max Williamson and Leslie Jones focused on recycled materials when renovating their Rosemont home. They wanted to keep the house in the same footprint but remain conscious of the effect at the local landfills as well. With this goal, they converted the coal-oil burner to a radiator instead of throwing it away and used refinished doors with reusable hardware.

One wood floor was made out of a beam from a dairy barn in Atlantic City, and landscaping stones in the back yard are from Massachusetts street curbs. The oven and stove are old, but Williamson refurbished them with parts from an antique appliance store in Georgia.

The water is heated with solar panels on the roof, the windows are thermally insulated, the air conditioner is a high-efficiency unit using a non-ozone-depleting refrigerant, and the shower heads and toilets are low-flow selections. Although there was an expense up front, they have since experienced a 40-percent drop in utility bills.

All the doors here are salvaged, Williamson said. Some of the building materials they got out of refuse receptacles from other peoples renovations, or from stores in the area that resell salvaged materials, like the ReStore run by Habitat for Humanity in Hybla Valley.

The backyard gardens are filled with hearty native plants, and everything is watered by recouped water in rain barrels filled with runoff from the roof. We can water the entire yard with it, said Jones.

Alexandria City councilmen Rob Krupicka serves on a regional committee that encourages green building across the region. Krupicka himself used a few green philosophies when building his own house six years ago in nearby Del Ray, like recycled newspaper insulation, recycled wallboard and a grass driveway to decrease run-off.

Depending on the materials used, it can cost a bit more in construction, but if people do it correctly, the lower energy bills will save money over time and the healthier home will make everybody happier, Krupicka said.

The government is pitching in to some extent, too, with tax benefits. In some jurisdictions, it has waved the building permit fee for green construction. In Washington, D.C., construction grants are issued only if a certain amount of green steps are being incorporated.

The City of Alexandria has few tax programs to encourage green building, said Krupicka. Efforts have also been made to give the city green building incentive powers, but the state government has not granted them.