Our Towns Habitat for Humanity doesn't want to be known only as a humanitarian group, but as an environmental one as well.
Last month, the Habitat for Humanity chapter completed its first LEED-certified home, meaning it is more environmentally friendly than most homes.
Created by the U.S. Green Building Counsel, the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program provides builders a framework for creating energy efficient homes. The program also instructs homeowners and neighborhoods on how to maintain the houses in a environmentally-sensitive way.
"We've done an excellent job in the past in terms of keeping energy costs low in the house, but this is an even greater improvement," said Terry Laney, executive director of Our Towns, which covers Mooresville, Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville. "There's going to be a significant reduction of water costs for our homeowners."
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LEED ratings are based on a point system, and a home can receive one of four rankings: certified, silver, gold or platinum. Platinum is the best rank, with recipients attaining 80 points or more of a possible 100.
Wendy Roberson, a single mom from Mooresville, is the first recipient of a LEED-certified home from Our Towns. She moved into the home last month on Clover Avenue in Mooresville, with her two children - daughter Cheyanne, 15, and son Tucker, 12.
"I was so excited I couldn't stand myself," said Roberson of her new eco-friendly home. "This is a more efficient home than what we were living in."
After Roberson divorced her husband about 11 years ago, she couldn't afford rent or a mortgage. The single mom and her children have lived with her mother since.
But friend encouraged her to apply for a Habitat for Humanity home and she began her journey toward owning a home again.
Roberson had to put in several hours of "sweat equity" - working on others' homes - before Habitat would consider starting work on her home.
Once the nonprofit Christian organization started work on Roberson's home, she had to work about 350 hours on its construction. Laney said Roberson surpassed that number, working at least 500 hours.
"When I come home after work, it's my house. It's not a rental home, it's mine," she said. "I have accomplished one of my life goals: To own my own home. It's so nice to know that when you come home, you're in your own home."
Manny Rosado, a Habitat for Humanity site supervisor, said Our Towns plans to continue building LEED-certified houses.
Rosado said the toughest part of working on the organization's first LEED-certified home was documenting everything. LEED guidelines tend to be more specific than standard building codes. For instance, any lumber used must be harvested within a 500-mile radius of the home.
"It forced us to do a lot more research," said Rosado. "But now that the team has built this first LEED home, we know what goes into it."
Researchers have studied the environmental benefits of building a LEED home and owning one.
Rosado said that while the construction of the average home produces about 3 pounds of waste per square foot, LEED-certified homes produce about 1 pound.
Some studies have found that the initial start-up investment for a LEED home is about 2 percent more than standard homes, but the design will yield more than 10 times the initial investment in lifecycle savings.
Our Homes isn't the only Lake Norman area organization making LEED certified homes the standard. In Davidson, builder Rodney Graham, owner of John Marshall Custom Homes, recently completed the first LEED-certified gold level house in Mecklenburg County.
Some of the factors to give the home such a high distinction: proximity to downtown to encourage walking, location on an in-fill lot so no new infrastructure was required, preservation of native trees on the lot and a no chemical adhesives used during the construction.
For residents like Roberson, the benefits of owning a LEED-certified home are two-fold: she's doing her part to preserve the environment and she's saving money by having a more efficient home.
"I feel honored to live in the first LEED home they built," she said. "Lowes and Habitat have gone out of their way to make this experience wonderful."