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Real Estate

Developers, Pittsburgh leaders set sights on more energy-efficient homes

| Saturday, June 20, 2015, 8:00 p.m.
Standing in front of a modular home unit on Mt. Washington, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, is Brett Robinson, president of the Terra Building Group.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Standing in front of a modular home unit on Mt. Washington, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, is Brett Robinson, president of the Terra Building Group.
Standing near the front of a modular home unit on Mt. Washington, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, is Brett Robinson, president of the Terra Building Group, who said a few words during the groundbreaking.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Standing near the front of a modular home unit on Mt. Washington, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, is Brett Robinson, president of the Terra Building Group, who said a few words during the groundbreaking.
Standing in front of a modular home unit on Mt. Washington, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, is Brett Robinson, president of the Terra Building Group, who said a few words during the groundbreaking.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Standing in front of a modular home unit on Mt. Washington, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, is Brett Robinson, president of the Terra Building Group, who said a few words during the groundbreaking.

Leslie M. Montgomery said two homes being constructed in Mt. Washington symbolize a direction she would like to be explored more often.

“Right now, it is a small, elite group,” said Montgomery, communication manager of the Green Building Alliance. “But it could lead to neighborhood sites rather than individual homes.”

The two modular homes on Kambach Street are being built to acquire LEED certification, meaning they are not only built for energy efficiency but for sustainability.

“Pittsburgh has developed a reputation for green, commercial buildings, and now we would like to see that thinking go to LEED-certified residences,” she said.

The South Side-based Green Building Alliance is a chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, the organization at established LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) as a way of measuring construction efficiency.

Brett Robinson, president of the Terra Building Group, is the developer of the two homes and seems to agree with Montgomery. He is looking at a neighborhood-sized job in the Hill District.

He said Terra aims to build LEED- and Energy Star-certified homes — instead of condos or apartments — in urban settings.

Pittsburgh officials seem interested in fostering — and improving — green thinking for residences.

Right now, any new home that is involved in Urban Redevelopment Authority funding must meet Energy Star standards, said Grant Ervin, the sustainability manager and chief retention officer for the city. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is developing a master plan focusing on more efficiently using rain water in neighborhoods. That plan would involve greener home designs or improvements, he said.

Meanwhile, Councilman Corey O'Connor said he and council colleague Deborah Gross have put together a bill to offer financial incentives for green improvements to homes.

The bill is with planning and zoning officials, who are getting data from 3 Rivers Wet Weather on green “zones” where such work would be most effective. The weather group is a private organization that studies water and overflow issues.

The Mt. Washington homes will have rain gardens and permeable driveways to return moisture to the water table.

Plus, Robinson said, they will win LEED points because they're being constructed of locally produced modular units made by Riverview Homes, a company that has become a partner with Terra. Both are based in Vandergrift.

The homes, which will have a nouveau-Craftsman look, will sell for $329,900 and $349,000. They each will have three bedrooms and a garage; one will have 2 12 baths and the other 3 12.

Mark Jennings, a vice president for Millcraft Real Estate Services, said he agrees with the concentration on the “urban core. People are looking for tree-lined streets.”

Montgomery said a home on Margaretta Street in East Liberty was the first LEED-rated residence in the city, so the Terra homes will be “No. 2 and 3 in Pittsburgh.”

The East Liberty home was a project of Michael Merck, owner of West Penn Energy Solutions. Merck founded the company in 2005 and has been trying to make energy-efficient homes. County records show the East Liberty home sold in April for $308,500.

Merck said he did a “complete gut job” on the house.

Improvements and new construction require that a qualified LEED rater be involved from the beginning. Rhett Major of The Energy Doctor in North Huntingdon, is the rater for the Mt. Washington homes.

He said his initial involvement is in steering developers the right way. He can advise them on sustainability and durability issues — important LEED issues — as well as more Energy Star-aimed topics such as lighting, heating and ventilation.

He is enthusiastic about LEED ratings for city properties.

LEED is not only centered on architectural matters; it is involved with “linkages” such as nearness to city centers, public transportation and utility service.

A house in a city is more efficient, he said, because residents use less gas — or none at all if using public transportation — on trips to work or stores.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com.

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