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Builders Join to Create An All-Green Community

By Johanna King
For the Journal
    The custom-built development of La Cuentista may be the first "all green" community in Albuquerque, designed to exist in harmony with its surroundings and the environment.
    Skimming the escarpment on Albuquerque's West Side, phase one of La Cuentista, now under construction, will include 140 custom homes by seven local builders who all have pledged to meet at least the minimum requirements for certification by Build Green New Mexico, a division of the Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico.
    "They're showing everyone that this can be done, that it's not just a niche market," says Sara Eatman, administrator of Build Green New Mexico. "They're doing a fantastic job breaking the stereotype. They're taking the ambiguity out of the term 'green.' ''
    Build Green New Mexico bases its guidelines on those established by the National Association of Home Builders, tailoring the criteria to fit New Mexico's climate, environment and market, says Eatman. La Cuentista builders can choose which green aspects to incorporate into each home as long as they earn the minimum number of points needed to meet each of seven categories to attain a bronze level of certification, she explains.
    The seven categories are: lot preparation and design, resource efficiency, energy efficiency, water efficiency and conservation, indoor environmental quality, homeowner education and global impact.
    Builders can earn points by using recycled materials as well as by recycling debris and not wasting resources. They are encouraged to use fewer toxic products and more efficient building techniques. And they are required to educate homeowners, so the highly efficient homes they build operate properly.
    "We all agreed and believe that the green concept not only is the right thing to do, but is the wave of the future," says Kent Maxwell, owner of Maxwell Custom Builders who will build on 20 lots in the neighborhood about a mile and a half south of Paseo del Norte and Unser.
    Other developers, who also will build on 20 lots apiece, include Homes by Marie, Lee Michael Homes, Homes by New Vistas, Keystone Homes, Ryley West Custom Builders and Sun Mountain Construction. The homes will be a minimum of 2,000 square feet, with list prices starting at $180 per square foot.
    Phase two of the development is scheduled to break ground this summer and will feature a gated community of 186 more affordable single-family, detached patio-type homes.
    Not only will home construction meet green standards, but also the developers are working to have the community as a whole certified by doing such things as controlling erosion and runoff, planting indigenous plants, allocating nearly a third of the community for open space and walking paths, installing highly efficient streetlights, and including retail space for convenient shopping so residents cut down on driving, says Eatman.
    Consumers benefit from many of the environmentally sound building practices, she says, because they often translate into cost savings as well as an improved standard of living.
    "Consumers get the pocketbook benefit. It's not just altruistic," says Eatman.
    Homes are better insulated and sealed than those built to traditional industry standards, and they feature energy efficient appliances as well as economical cooling and heating systems. Recirculating water heaters with timers, for example, are being installed within 30 feet of faucets so that "the second you turn on your faucet, you get hot water," says Eatman.
    La Cuentista builders also are reducing use of toxic paints, adhesives, stains and finishes, and many are installing fresh air ventilation control systems that pump outdoor air into the homes while maintaining interior temperatures. Eatman says such building practices can help reduce allergies and asthma as well as prevent the growth of mold.
    Marie Blea, owner of Homes by Marie, says she has been building green homes for several years now because it adds value to the product. "I think in the long term, that's where the industry's going, and most people want the major green features of a house."
    Blea predicts consumers won't be willing to give up all amenities that are not deemed environmentally friendly, such as skylights, which aren't energy efficient. However, buyers are interested in many aspects of green building that her homes feature, such as energy efficient appliances, thermal pane windows, low flow toilets and wrapped pipes. The builder's model home in La Cuentista is 2,180 square feet with four bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, and an open concept. Its list price is $520,000.
    The Maxwell homes in the green neighborhood will feature state of the art conservation systems designed to reduce energy and water consumption and improve the indoor environment, says the builder.
    "We chose to focus on energy and water conservation because that hits home for everybody," says Maxwell. "You're getting state of the art technology, and that means savings on your monthly bills."
    Maxwell's model home, on Cayenne NW, is a one-story adobe priced at $399,000.