Belvedere: A Case Study in Green Development

We can debate the optimal density for energy-efficient development (See “Urban Heat Islands and Optimal Density Levels“), but the only way we’ll find out for sure is through trial and error in the marketplace. We’ll have an interesting case study to look at soon: The Belvedere project north of Charlottesville, which its developers are touting as the greenest project yet built in Central Virginia. Bob Burke has the story here, “Making Green from Green.”

Belvedere will fit 400 housing units plus retail-commercial space into 207 acres about 2.5 miles north of the Charlottesville city line. The developers, Charlottesville-based Stonehaus, plan to build townhouses and single-family dwellings modestly above the median housing price point in the region, but they estimate that the energy-saving appliances and other house design features will reduce energy costs by one third. Employing New Urbanism community design principles — mixed uses, lofts over storefronts, pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, etc. — they hope to promote walking and reduce driving. Ample green space and bio-filtration techniques will reduce the impact of storm water run-off.

Coming down the pike are similar projects, combing New Urbanism and green engineering, like Roseland in Chesterfield County and Summit Crossing in Spotsylvania, just to mention two projects I’m acquainted with. Each of these planned communities, I would suggest, comes closer to the energy-efficiency optimum than either central cities or the pattern of scattered and disorganized development that predominates across Virginia.

But here’s what I have yet to see from a self-described green developer: green neighborhood power sources, whether based on windmills, solar panels, recycled bio-waste or a cogeneration plant that generates electricity and recycles the waste heat for productive uses. Developers can install those technologies on a mass scale far more cost-effectively than can individual home owners retrofitting houses one at a time. Once we see renewable energy getting worked into these communities, then I know the green talk is real.


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25 responses to “Belvedere: A Case Study in Green Development”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    “But here’s what I have yet to see from a self-described green developer: green neighborhood power sources, whether based on windmills, solar panels, recycled bio-waste or a cogeneration plant that generates electricity and recycles the waste heat for productive uses.”

    Well, I submit that the best measure of whther something is green, is whether it is cheaper, all things considered, meaning both sides of the eqution,and winners and losers on both sides.

    Some of those “green” energy sources are green in some places and times, and not in others.

    I hope Belvedere is a success, and it does come close to an energy efficient optimum, but it’s going to take a while to find out. Until then, it is one more option that people will have to choose from.

  2. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    I went to the Tidewater Homearama this past weekend. They had a house there that was green certified, or whatever they call it. It had things like bamboo floors and reprocessed wood. Well this house was like 6000 sq. ft. and had a geothermal heating and cooling system, which is supposed to be one of the latest things in energy efficiency.

    There were two things that turned me off concerning this socalled green house other than it’s size. The first was a requirement to drill nine 200 foot wells to run the geothermal pipes through. The second were all the conventional spotlights powered up in each room. No LEDs, no CFLs. Green is quickly becoming a label with no real meaning.

    http://www.homearama.tv/house.php?house_id=8

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Is there such a thing as a “Green Settlement Pattern”?

    Is a “Green” settlement pattern one in which all the homes are energy star certified?

    Can there be a Summit Crossing that is GREEN when 80% of the folks who live there.. commute 100 miles a day… BUT.. all of their appliances are energy star!

    Is there such a thing as a Green turnip truck that folks fall off of on their way to buy GREEN Hummers?

    Green Hummers you say – I “thought” that Hummers were a no-no in terms of industry use.

    No.. that’s propagada but out by the folks who make the Prius…

    See.. if you live in a house that runs totally on solar power – you can drive a Hummer and be “greener” than all those folks driving Priuses…

    ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “industry use”.. DOH “energy use”..

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    What is so “green” about commuting to a job?

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Larry and anonymous, Very simple: The shorter the commute that residents take and the fewer Vehicle Miles they drive, the greener the development. Vehicle Miles Driven is one indicator. Energy Star appliances are another. Size and orientation of the houses/ townhouses/ apartments is another. Management of storm water drainage is another. The use of recycled or recyclable materials is another. Power sources are another.

    To my mind, there is no one criteria that makes you “green.” I would be interested to see what the LEED building standards have to say. It’s my understanding, and I’m willing to stand corrected, is that LEED uses a point system, so that there are, in fact, various degrees of “green.”

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 9:09, Short commutes are “green” because they require less energy consumption than longer commutes on the same transit mode. Less energy means less pollution.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    You know the yellow stickers on appliances that show the max and min energy use for that appliance class and then a little triangle pointing to where that particular appliance energy-use sits on that linear scale.

    Well, we need something like that for settlement patterns…

    We need some standardized metrics.

    GREEN right now is .. whatever.. each person wants to construct and/or believe for his/her own “GREEN” reality.

    If you take a survey and ask folks is they support being “GREEN” products and policies all of them will say “of course” (or most of them).

    Then if you ask them how THEY are “GREEN”.. they’ll rattle off the fact that they recycle plastic bags or buy “biodegradeable” fertilizer or .. whatever.. but they also might drive 100 miles a day.. SOLO, at rush hour (when pollution is worse) in a monster SUV

    …. but they believe ferevently that they are “GREEN” because they do other “GREEN” things.

    no one wants to accept the fact that after you balance out their GREEN behaviors with their anti-GREEN (for lack of a better word) behavior that they get a failing grade.

    We need a GREEN calculator where you total up your GREEN points and subtract your anti-GREEN points and get a score… that you can then compare to everyone else scores and get a more accurate picture of your own GREEN behavior.

    Until we do something like this, it’s a marketing ploy that is the perfect way for someone to claim GREEN credentials when they are really not.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: homework for EMR (JAB can help)

    Develop a rating system that can be used for specific development proposals.

    Let’s call it the “Smart Growth GREEN” report card.

    The developer wil meet with the Smart Growth GREEN certifying agency to get a preliminary rating per his/here design and suggestions for ways to improve the score.

    A website similiar to Consumer Reports will give “ratings” for folks who want to “go GREEN”.

    Extra Credit: Answer the question -Can someone “buy” themselves to GREEN?

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    “Short commutes are “green” because they require less energy consumption than longer commutes on the same transit mode. Less energy means less pollution.”

    Not necessarily, Jim, and you know better than that.

    A ten mile commute on a heavily congested road with seveal traffic lights will use more fuel (and waste more of what is used) than a ten mile ride on an uncongested road.

    If you compare a twenty mile trip the difference is even greater because then the faster moving car will have time to get up to perating temperature.

    When we get to electric vehicles, this argument is moot, and then you will be correct.

    RH

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    I don’t see the problem with geothermal holes.

    The holes are temporary. The pipes in the holes are a closed loop so nothing eneters the ground except heat. The pipes use a nontoxic fluid, and the holes are filled with clay grout in case the pipes ever leak.

    I have geothermal and it is efficient and quiet: no loud fans disturbing the neighborhood, and no blasts of heat coming from the evaporators.

    Where is the problem?

    I agree with what you say about conventonal spotlight bulbs, but not about size of the building. Size isn’t necessarily a waste, and we environmentalists have to leave SOME room for the market to work its magic, or we will be considered nut cases and nazis.

    RH

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    “The shorter the commute that residents take and the fewer Vehicle Miles they drive, the greener the development. Vehicle Miles Driven is one indicator.”

    Absolutely not true.

    Rather than VMT, a better measure might be gallons used per task accomplished, and based on how many people are trying to accomplsh the same task at the same time, distance might be th eleast of your worries.

    If you beleive that the main purpose of the highways is to promote commerce, then a better measure might be gallons used per dollar value of tasks accomplished.

    There is no point in having metrics if we don’t have metrics that make sense. At a very basic and simple level your argument looks plausible, but really, VMT means next to nothing, either environmentally or economically.

    RH

  13. Accurate Avatar

    Jim – you are correct, there are ‘degrees’ of green, however they tend to classify it like Olympic medals, gold, silver, bronze (and I think they added a platinum). The rather stupid part is that it costs you thousands and thousands of dollars for a ‘professional’ to monitor and certify your building as to what level/medal it receives. I worked on a building where the owners wanted the items that saved money and energy but didn’t want the extra cost to be ‘certified’. On the whole the certification thing is as much advertisement as anything else. I don’t believe that have the same rating type system for homes, so it’s still a gray area that realtors and builders exploit with wild abandon. Also keep in mind, so much of this is new (ideas and technology) that we don’t really know yet when (or if) the payback will be. What we do know is that building ‘green’ tacks several thousands (or tens of thousands) to the cost of a home and several millions more to the cost of commercial buildings. Is it bad, not necessarily (except for the cash for rating system) but we don’t really know how (or if it is) good yet. I remind folks about how we made ‘tighter’ constructed homes in the 80’s and 90’s which ended up with tons of mold problems. I foresee that much of this new ‘green’ construction has some unexpected surprises down the road, 10, 20 or 30 years from now. But don’t let that stop you from touting the ‘smart-growth, green-living’ mantra.

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    “The rather stupid part is that it costs you thousands and thousands of dollars for a ‘professional’ to monitor and certify your building as to what level/medal it receives. “

    Nice one.

    The same problem applies to organic farming and other things. The certification costs more than the product, like the famous Air Force toilet seat.

    Since you must have certification to adveritise as organic, many growers now advertise as “low impact” which may buyers recognize means what it says which is “pragmatic”. Part of the impact avoided is the impact of overblown hyperbole and oversight. It is exactly the same as your example of wanting the savings but not the cost of being certified.

    Once you add in the cost of that hyperbole, “education” advertising, oversight, and “public participation” nonsense, the entire environmental movement looks a lot less green.

    But don’t let that stop you from touting the ‘smart-growth, green-living’ mantra: there is a good chance that half the time you will be right.

  15. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Good, I’ve found someone that has a geo unit. How much did each one of those holes cost to drill down to 200-400 feet? I’m all for geo and have been reading up on it, but when they told me nine holes, well, that got me wondering about the ROI based on what they charge for a simple well around here. If the cost is minimal, then great. What was the total cost for yours? And the reduction in heating and cooling costs?

    As for size of the house. Every time I read about someone who is building a solar home, they are pretty up there where money doesn’t matter. If we are ever going to get solar and other power systems to reach the masses, such Gore houses aren’t going to cut it. Think small and easy to build, not some megamansion with feel good amenities.

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    An article in the Wall Street Journal claimed that over a lifetime someone would pay more than $140K for electricity and that solar panels .. while costing $40K up front would be quite a bit cheaper in the long run.

    Now you gotta ask yourself – why would sane people pick the more expensive option?

    and the answer is.. the same folks who pick 15mpg SUVs rather than 30mpg econo boxes – to commute SOLO in every day at rush hour…
    are .. also happy with not having the Solar Panels…

    Perhaps we should require that coal power plants emit no more pollution than solar panels do – and let economics and the free market take over…

  17. Groveton Avatar

    Good for Belvedere.

    At least they are trying.

    Hopefully, Belevedere won’t sell out to a bunch of “semi-retired” Northern Virginians who keep their house in Fairfax County and spend weekends in Charlottesville. I know lots of those guys. They drive 100 mi. each way every week.

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    It beats Tysons Corner, where urbanization could generate an additional 600,000 vehicle trips daily, even with Rail to Dulles.

    TMT

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    require that coal power plants emit no more pollution than solar panels do – and let economics and the free market take over…

    If you require this, you no longer have a free market.

    On the other hand If you require this and we find out the truth of the matter, you might be very surprised as to which emits less pollution over its lifetime.

    RH

  20. Anonymous Avatar

    Last time I drilled a hole I think it was $3 a foot, around 4 years ago. But there was a drought on and the drillers were gouging. The amount of well depends on the size of house, so if those figures are for a 6000 sq ft house you won’t need that much.

    Probably your heat pump installer will have a relationship with drillers, but I did my own.

    I did my installation in 1989 and I think it cost around $5000 for a 2500 sq ft house, so maybe twice what a regular furnace or heat pump would have cost.

    I never had another unit so I couldn’t tell you the reduction, but I thought it was worth it just for the total absence of noise.

    It is probably thirty percent more efficient, and payback is 3 to five years. Also, the thing lives indoors and works less hard, so maintenance has been minimal.

    I would do it again, and I might have to soon. My hundred year old steam heat is just about fully amortized!

    I did have resistance heating for a short time, and that really hurt.

  21. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Power Plants are not “free” to pollute. They do so by permit and the permit is granted on the basis that the pollution is worth the electricity produced.

    A truly “free” market would require that all technologies compete on an equivalent basis.

    Power Plants that pollute are actually subsidized by the environment.

    If the claim is that the pollution from the manufacture of solar panels exceeds that of coal-power plants – I’d be interested in seeing the numbers to back up the assertion…

    but let me tie this back to the thread “Belvedere” where part of the claimed benefits is that the houses are GREEN because they employ energy-efficient design standards and appliances.

    Which is fine… but the claim is that fundamental change requires that we not only reduce our consumption of electricity but that we further reduce waste and pollution which is inherent in burning coal and then transmitting over power lines to .. obstensibly “GREEN” Communities.

    I’d point out that anyone could do the same thing with their own home..remodel it.. no matter where they live…

    AND.. FURTHER that 40K up front for solar would seem to be not only MORE GREEN than conventional electricity but cheaper…

    then .. to make the point – that the up front cost disparity would not be near as large if Power Plants had to meet the same pollution standards that solar meets.

    Note.. that I did not make the claim that solar does not pollute and yes.. I’d like to see numbers but I’m pretty confident that it’s not a question of whether it pollutes less – but how much less and it could be on the order of more than 50%.

    so what’s the point?

    The point is that with new developments we not only can pollute less but it also saves money… and that the real problem is the upfront need for capital.

    WHICH IS very interesting.. because .. consumers.. in an effort to avoid the up front capital costs of Solar actually are responsible for Dominion seeking to build more power plants and more power lines.. because THEIR capital costs are so high also.

    In other words.. the system we have now.. is that we get Dominion to invest the capital and then they make us pay it back.. in the form of pollution and higher energy costs (than if we used solar).

    When I see a development – like Belvedere offer Solar – I’ll sit up and take notice…especially if they have solar-carports for the plug-in commuter cars.

  22. Anonymous Avatar

    I don’t claim that solar wouldn’t be cheaper in the long run or pollute less.

    But tht $40k solar panel you keep spouting off about only returns 11% without considering the full costs. Once you add in all that other stuff that 11% gets smaller and smaller.

    The $140k in coal power electricity includes all the costs of pollution control that the law sees fit to require. So far.

    Maybe the same is true for solar panel makers, their pollution costs are covered in the $40k. But, if solar panel manufactuing gets to the scale of coal plants, we miht see more requirements pop up.

    My only claim is that making assymetric, half baked analysis makes us look like idiots.

    “In other words.. the system we have now.. is that we get Dominion to invest the capital and then they make us pay it back.. in the form of pollution and higher energy costs (than if we used solar).”

    This is pure conjecture, because we do not know if either the pollution costs or energy cosata are truly higher with coal than solar.

    When you have the numbers, come back and see me. If you want me to get the numbers for you, my fee is $250 an hour.

    RH

  23. boboroshi Avatar

    “Green” is going the way of “organic”โ€”a meaningless term that people associate with less guilt.

    What I’m amazed at is that some of the best solutions for energy efficency continue to be ignored. Passive solar worked for hundreds of years. Houses should be built by taking into account the geographical and environmental context in which they will exist. Instead, it’s more of the mc mansions with huge central A/C cooling units. I just don’t see how that really helps anything at all. Instead of using lots of electricity generated from either fossil fuels (essentially trapped solar energy) or nuclear power, why don’t people just design houses to use the environment to help heat and cool?

  24. Anonymous Avatar

    “”Green” is going the way of “organic”โ€”a meaningless term that people associate with less guilt. “

    Excellent.

    Now if we can just put meaning back in the terms, then people will be able to associate them with less guilt — and also be correct.

    RH

  25. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “But tht $40k solar panel you keep spouting off about only returns 11% without considering the full costs. Once you add in all that other stuff that 11% gets smaller and smaller.”

    11% compared to what? you gotta have power ..right?

    It’s not like you have to choice to not pay for power.

    “The $140k in coal power electricity includes all the costs of pollution control that the law sees fit to require. So far.

    Maybe the same is true for solar panel makers, their pollution costs are covered in the $40k. But, if solar panel manufactuing gets to the scale of coal plants, we miht see more requirements pop up.

    My only claim is that making assymetric, half baked analysis makes us look like idiots.”

    so now you’re claiming that we don’t know all the externalities and therefore that means that only assymetric half-baked analysis are possible?

    “In other words.. the system we have now.. is that we get Dominion to invest the capital and then they make us pay it back.. in the form of pollution and higher energy costs (than if we used solar).”

    This is pure conjecture, because we do not know if either the pollution costs or energy cosata are truly higher with coal than solar.”

    so, then why is coal “better” again?

    aren’t you arguing that since we don’t know all the externalities that we cannot make an informed decision in comparing the two?

    so..you’re essentially arguing for the status-quo… since we can’t figure out the “real” externalities … and, in your mind, it’s not clear that solar does not pollute more than coal.

    and then you offer a “real” analysis for $250 an hour?

    geeze.. why do I feel this is a risky approach?

    ๐Ÿ™‚

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