Builder Rodney Graham, owner of John Marshall Custom Homes, recently completed the first LEED-certified, Gold level house in Mecklenburg County at 233 Catawba Ave. in Davidson.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is nationally recognized for green building practices.
Graham, a self-described "crunchy, granola type," finds green building to be a perfect way to combine his passion for home construction and his yearning to make the world a better, safer place.
"I remember listening to an interview with John Denver years ago, and he spoke about how people thought the problems of the world were so big. How can one person make a difference? But each one of us can ask ourselves, 'What can I do to make an impact?' And together, we can make a difference."
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Graham started taking classes a few years ago, through the National Association of Homebuilders, to understand sustainable development better.
"People think of houses with solar panels, but there's much more to it than that. There's really been a kind of evolution in green building practices, and the more that people are aware, the less of a mystery is attached to it. To me, the essence of a green home is that it's healthy, energy efficient and sustainable," he said.
The home at 233 Catawba Ave., owned by Michael Orlando, is the definition of a healthy home. "It's not just how it's built, but where it's built," Graham said. The close proximity to downtown Davidson makes it easy to walk to shop or run errands. The house is built on an in-fill lot, so no new infrastructure was needed. Graham was careful not to remove any existing trees. Native, drought-resistant landscaping cuts down on water usage.
The house is about 1,600 square feet. "Before going through this process, I'd never really thought about drywall," Graham said. He bought this drywall from the National Gypsum Co. plant in Mt. Holly, where it was made using sulfur dioxide scrubbed from the smoke stacks of Duke Power's plants. Combined with other sustainable products, it becomes gypsum.
An efficient heating and cooling system cuts down on energy usage and bills. "Compared to an average, up-to-code house, this house is sealed up 5-6 times tighter. Little gets in or out, improving your air quality."
Zero volatile organic paint, no chemical adhesives and natural light all contribute to the overall health of the home as well.
Graham was surprised how relatively inexpensive it was to build a home like this. "It only costs about 3 percent more to build a house like this. When you think how you can save $100 a month on energy bills alone, and combining that with things like better air quality - I just feel like there's a learning lesson here."