Green House 

MLGW tries to get more people interested in eco-friendly homes.

Not only does Memphis top lists of the fattest cities, its residents are also some of the worst energy hogs in the country.

"The average household energy usage in Shelby County is higher than the U.S. average," MLGW EcoBUILD inspector Kieth Kulow said at a green building seminar at Bridges last week.

In fact, both Memphis and Tennessee were at the top of household electricity usage nationally from 1990 to 2008. But MLGW's voluntary EcoBUILD program, launched in 2003, sets building standards designed to use 30 percent less energy than homes built using conventional construction practices.

Examples of EcoBUILD standards include using recycled materials, installing energy-efficient air-conditioning units and planting native shrubs to reduce landscape watering.

Since 2003, EcoBUILD has certified 542 homes in Shelby County. EcoBUILD homes account for only about 6 percent of the building permits in the county, which is down from 10 percent several years ago. MLGW strategic marketing coordinator Becky Williamson said the number of EcoBUILD homes slowed when the overall housing market stalled due to the recession.

At the seminar, Kulow showed several examples of EcoBUILD homes, including a block of homes in Uptown that served as EcoBUILD's first project in 2003. The project will boast 400 homes when completed.

"When it's finished, Uptown will be the largest green neighborhood in the nation," Williamson said.

A 2006 study of power usage in the existing EcoBUILD homes found that customers achieved an average annual electricity savings of 34 percent and a natural gas savings of 56 percent. Those are better numbers than MLGW expected since EcoBUILD homes were designed to deliver a 30 percent savings.

Kulow also showed photographs of bad construction practices, ranging from leaking ductwork to poor insulation, in homes that weren't EcoBUILD-certified.

"It's not just old inner-city houses that have problems. It's also new houses," Williamson said. "Homebuyers assume if they have a new home, it must be eco-friendly. That's not necessarily true."

Homeowners who wish to purchase EcoBUILD-certified homes can find a list of participating builders on mlgw.com.

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