Raleigh Eco-home Shines on National Show

By Danny Hooley, Staff Writer

The construction of an eco-friendly home in downtown Raleigh can be seen throughout July on “Renovation Nation” a new TV series on the Planet Green channel.

The program, starring former “This Old House” host Steve Thomas, is shown on Discovery Communications’ brand-new channel devoted to environmentalism. “Renovation Nation” shows how old homes can be remade to be more Earth-friendly.

The Raleigh home spotlighted in an episode that first aired in late June (and re-airs at noon and 3 p.m. today) belongs to Steve and Sujittra Martin, former Charlotte residents who moved with their toddler daughter into their new Raleigh home on Holden Street in January.

The Martins were looking for a house inside the Beltline last year but couldn’t find anything suitable.

Sujittra Martin says the family wanted “something small, because we are living in the city a lot, but all the space — usable space.”

Then, a Web site devoted to “green” construction led them to architect Tina Govan, now their new Holden Street neighbor.

Govan has been designing homes for 19 years with an eye toward environmental responsibility.

“It’s a way of building where you minimize the wood, and it’s just very tight and energy-efficient,” Govan says. “Luckily, there’s a demand for it now, as reality steps in.”

Govan had renovated her own 1923 bungalow in that fashion, which impressed the Martins when they visited.

“They got convinced to build this way,” Govan says.

She advised the couple to renovate, rather than to build from scratch.

“By chance, this house down the street went on the market,” Govan says. “Our intention was to take out most of it, but still leave the foundation and maybe the floor framing, and add on to it.”

That didn’t quite work out, after an engineer’s inspection of the 1950s home revealed that the foundation wasn’t up to the planned second-story addition.

Habitat for Humanity, which reuses salvageable material, was called in to help take down the whole thing. The builders started over, using the home’s original footprint for the front. There is an L-shaped addition on the back.

“The owners didn’t want to start over from scratch,” Govan says. “They loved the design.”

Meanwhile, Mike Mathis Productions, the Los Angeles producers of “Renovation Nation,” contacted Govan. The project was chosen for three episodes set to show in July, each focusing on specific eco-friendly aspects of the home.

Those include an underground geothermal pump that heats or cools the house by exchanging heat with the earth. The exterior walls were built with structural insulated panels that are pre-fabricated, which speeds the process of building.

A huge cistern and some “crates” were installed below ground to collect runoff from the roof. The collected water is either pumped out for sprinkling the lawn, or percolated back into the ground.

Another feature uses solar power to heat tubing under the concrete flooring, which helps keep the space warm. Solar water panels heat the water used for the Martins’ shower and the dishwasher.

The roof is made of metal, and the decks were made with plastic from recycled milk jugs. Glass wall tiles behind the kitchen stove were made from beer and wine bottles and car windshields.

The building and installation were done last fall by various North Carolina businesses, including builders Home Energy Inc. in Wendell and The Splinter Group Inc in Raleigh; rainwater harvesting company BRAE of Oakboro; and Raleigh landscaper Philip Bernard.

A recent inspection found the house to be nearly airtight in terms of energy loss. Sujittra Martin says the roughly 2,600-square-foot home is a money-saver as well as an energy-saver, faring much better than the family’s old Charlotte home, or the small Raleigh condo they rented while construction was in progress.

danny.hooley@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4728Ś© Copyright 2008, The News & Observer Publishing Company
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