Arlington Designer Homes is committed to green building for the health benefits, energy savings, and reduced environmental footprint it provides for our buyers and our community. With constantly changing regulations, technologies and products, buidling a new green home from the ground up isn't always easy - but it's always interesting!

Welcome to our behind-the-scenes blog about green building and remodeling, where you can watch a green home go up step-by-step and learn about using green building techniques for your own home. And visit our website at to learn even more about green building and remodeling.

March 29, 2011

Spring in DC

As the cherry blossoms start to bloom and we brace ourselves to take my 2-year-old son to the kite festival on the mall for the first time, I will diverge from my usual discussions here. I want to talk a little bit about the Washington D.C. area. Having been born in Washington D.C. and having lived my whole life in Arlington, I am something of a rarity around here - a native.
The Washington Metro area is such a great place to live. Our proximity to so many things and the high standard of living we enjoy here has kept me here my whole life. Especially in spring, I feel fortunate to live in this area. I can take the opportunity to hit a golf ball up the 14th fairway at Hains Point, where I have my very own private showing of cherry blossoms, or walk along the Potomac River and maybe catch a glimpse of a passing bald eagle.
We have a lot of plans this spring and summer. We’re going to catch a few concerts at Wolf Trap and Merriweather Post Pavilion – great outdoor venues. We’ll slip into D.C. on a warm spring night and see a free performance at the Kennedy Center’s Millenium stage. Wander over past the Iwo Jima memorial and take in the beauty and solemnity of Arlington Cemetery and visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  And we’ll tour the world while staying in Arlington, going out to eat.  One night it will be Thai, then Ethiopian, then a great burger from Ray’s Hell burger.  All pretty cheap, and all delicious.
In short, if you are lucky enough to be from Northern Virginia, then you know what I mean when I say there is no better place to be when the cherry blossoms are blooming. It means you are in for a great spring in a great place.

March 14, 2011

How Your House Can Help You Breathe Better

The crocuses are starting to bloom, the daffodils are coming up and the days are getting longer. All this means spring to me. And unfortunately, with spring come spring rains and allergens. Moisture and allergies are two major reasons why Arlington Designer Homes is investing in improved indoor air quality. The other day I went to a seminar about the new Energy Star standards and a less well known program by the EPA called Indoor Air Plus. Most people are at least aware of the Energy Star program, but many people I talk to are not aware of the Indoor Air Plus program. I think this is perhaps because unless you are personally affected by poor indoor air quality (IAQ), you might not even think about it.

The seminar I attended summarized the issue well:

People are increasingly concerned about mold, radon, carbon monoxide, and toxic chemicals commonly found in homes. In fact, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies show that levels of air pollution inside the home are often two to five times higher than outdoor levels. And poor indoor air quality is associated with a host of health problems, including eye irritation, allergies, headaches, and respiratory problems such as asthma.

Many things go into creating good indoor air quality in your home.  It is important to make sure that your home is moisture free, pest free and has adequate ventilation. It’s also important that you perform regular checks on the upkeep of your home. Every time you change the clocks (like this past weekend for Daylight Savings Time) you should also take the time to change the batteries in your fire alarm, and check the caulking and overall alignment of your house.

Over time, your house shifts, expands and contracts, and the sealants that are used both inside and outside can expand, contract, crack or simply wear out. Once there is an entrance to your house via a crack or contraction, it is an open invitation to moisture, mold, pests – all things that will lower the indoor air quality of your home.  And if the ventilation in your house is inadequate, it can lead to the build up of nitric oxide, radon, formaldehyde, and other harmful gases or chemicals.

When building a new home, or undertaking a remodeling project, we use green building techniques to address these potential problems before they occur. The first thing we do is create a tight building envelope. (Check out this video series from NAHB for more details about keeping moisture out when constructing a home.) This not only helps with energy efficiency but also serves to block out moisture and air infiltration which can bring in allergens. Of course, once you have blocked exterior causes from becoming a factor you need to take a look at the interior. That is why so much attention is paid to ventilation, making sure that we are getting moisture out of the house with bath fans, and introducing fresh air in a controlled manner with Energy Recovery Ventilators.  Next we must control Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs – chemical gasses emitted by paints and other building materials that can adversely affect your health. We control VOCs and the introduction of formaldehyde by simply eliminating it from our construction materials. One of the last parts of the green process is verifying that our techniques work.

All green programs that are worthwhile require 3rd party certifications that independently check all the information provided. They use the checklists provided by the EPA, Energy Star, and any other relevant green building programs to analyze how the whole system works. It is just another type of check and balance to make sure that the systems we have designed and installed work as they should.

March 4, 2011

A Green Home Can Also Be a Quiet Home!

2010 was a very busy year for Arlington Designer Homes, culminating with our delivering a new custom home just before the new year - a pretty nice holiday gift for our customers, and for us too! It's always exciting to finish a project and and see the homeowners move in to their new house. As I mentioned in last week's blog, we always look forward to hearing what our homeowners have to say about the house after they've gotten a chance to live in it for a little while -  what we did right, and what can be improved upon. One thing that that our customers and I have noticed about this particular project, a single-family green home we built in Falls Church City, is how quiet the house is. With a geo-thermal heating and air conditioning system installed, there's no noisy racket from air conditioners in the summer or the furnace in the winter. All you can hear is silence. The spray foam insulation also helps to mute any external noises, and with the highly energy-efficient windows, you barely even hear the sounds of buses and cars passing on the fairly busy road right in front of the home.

Most of us who work in green construction regularly promote the more well-known benefits of green homes: increased energy efficiency, reduced energy costs, improved air quality, a smaller environmental footprint, etc. But sometimes we forget to talk about the more intangible, but equally important benefits - like having a little bit more peace and quiet in your life.

Just like in other urban areas around the country, here in Northern Virginia, most of us live in close proximity to our neighbors. And as more and more communities in the DC metro area continue to promote "smart growth" - encouraging people to live in higher density areas where they can easily access public transporation, reduce energy costs, and avoid developing more land -- people in our area will likely be living ever closer to one another, and to major roads and public transporation routes. Living in a high density areas can offer many benefits, but often, peace and quiet isn't one of them. But even if you live in a highly-developed urban setting, with firetrucks and ambulances and buses zooming by at all hours of the day and night, with a little thought and attention to detail, you can still create a sense of quiet inside your home, and inside yourself.