What does it take to live “green” in San Antonio?
San Antonians embarked on a daylong tour Sept. 6 to see how homeowners are fine-tuning their dwellings to use less energy and more of San Antonio’s assets – from sunlight to city resources.
Stephanie Pittman, a Build San Antonio Green volunteer, said many people had already completed the home tour by noon.
“People are curious and have problems they’re looking to solve in their own homes, ranging from air-conditioning to hot water questions,” she said. “They’re looking for ideas.”
The tour is organized yearly by Build San Antonio Green, a third-party certification program that works with homebuilders to help create homes with increased efficiency, comfort and durability. Six homes were featured throughout Alamo Heights, Southtown, and Live Oak – four new modern dwellings and two retrofitted bungalows.
371 Everest and 1550 Terra Alta Streets
Although still under construction, the first two homes on the tour, located in Alamo Heights, demonstrated how an efficient layout combined with key features can add up to big savings. Features including energy recovery ventilator, double-glass Pella windows and doors, two-stage heating, ventilation and air conditioning system designed to run at a variable speed, and more.
The three-bedroom houses' stark white exterior mirrored the sky-lit indoor hues. Construction used durable materials, including a concrete floor, fiber cement siding, stucco, and a metal roof.
“Instead of having a lot of rooms, we have a bigger, open area, so even without air conditioning, you can feel the ventilation, and even without any lights turned on, the rooms are filled with natural light,” said Juan Manuel Fernández, founder of CVF Homes.
Like other homes on the tour, the Alamo Heights models included Energy Star tankless water heaters located in the center of the homes near all the faucets, to save water that runs through faucets, showerheads and toilets.
While the first floor of the house will be a sealed concrete foundation, a visit upstairs revealed how builders will lay corkboard over springboard.
Other components, including stainless steel mesh to keep out termites, gas and electric heating, solid plywood conglomerate walls and compact fluorescent and light-emitting diode (LED) lighting, factor into the houses’ energy-saver appeal.
327 E. Fest St.
The next house on the tour, located off Flores Street near the Blue Star Arts Complex, featured many of the amenities available at the Alamo Heights houses, as well as Energy Star-rated appliances.
The owners use xeriscaping, planting drought-tolerant cactuses and grasses instead of water-intensive ornamentals, and avoid irrigation to save water.
Stewart Blanton, who visited the Fest Street house with his wife, Aissatou, said they take the Green home tour each year to discover new ways of adding sustainable design elements to their own house.
“We like architecture, and we like to identify new ways to build sustainable housing that’s appropriate for our climate,” he said. “We’re also looking for ways to improve the old with the new without busting the bank. We can keep our own windows and add on.
“We pick up great tips on how to process gray water and collect rainwater, too,” Blanton added.
209 Carolina St.
At the house on Carolina Street, Marli and Kolby Klaus use a variety of tactics including a window treatment, a tankless water heater, and low-volatile organic compound (VOC) paint, to provide a safer, more energy-efficient home for their family.
She said that while she and her husband were primarily looking to move into an historic home when they began house hunting in San Antonio, the sustainable aspect of their abode has been a perk of living there.
“The builders had the renovations complete before we moved in. The extra insulation allows us to use less electricity,” she said. “This house was built in 1922, so it needed some help.”
Klaus pointed out water-saving models, including a gravel walkway running through the backyard, as a great way for homeowners to save money on watering grass and vegetation.
CPS Energy, which aims to conserve 771 megawatts of power by 2020, is offering customers opportunities a variety of ways to save money including Air Flow Performance Rebates.
The rebates are available for work completed on existing air conditioning systems and includes rebates for the repair and replacement of ductwork needed to improve the overall efficiency of the HVAC system and for testing that shows improvement to the HVAC system.
SAWS, which had been distributing high-efficiency toilets to customers through its High-Efficiency Toilet Programs, is touting new indoor programs and rebates, including free, high-efficiency showerheads and aerators.
6710 Prescott Dam
The last stop on the tour was a new house located near the Prescott Dam in Live Oak. One of many homes constructed by builders from Imagine Homes, the house features spray-foamed walls and blown-in insulation in the attic, both as a means to keep cool air in and hot air out.
As a charity home, constructors completed the house in four months using supplies donated by the builder.
While energy efficiency of such a caliber is very beneficial, it also requires the use of an air exchange for health reasons.
Irene Seel, office manager at Build San Antonio Green, said part of the organization’s efforts involve public outreach to help educate people how to be energy-efficient.
“Just because a home is built to be energy-efficient doesn’t mean the people living there know how to keep it that way, so that’s part of our effort, too,” she said.
*Featured/top image: A "green" home in Alamo Heights under construction. Photo by Katherine Nickas.