Home & Garden

Blythewood home a model of sustainable building

Mike and Maggie Switzer had planned for years to build their dream home in Blythewood's Cobblestone Park, overlooking the golf course.

They just didn't know it would end up being one of the greenest homes in the Midlands.

Mike Switzer said there wasn't a light-bulb moment that led him to seek close to the highest level of green certification in the country. Instead, it was a gradual self-education.

"It just made sense," he said. "Why keep going and doing the old traditional when it's so much better for everybody, including my monthly electric bill."

Finding an architect and a builder, though, was a challenge in a state that had not yet embraced the environmental movement.

The Switzers hired Bob Bourguignon of Sustainable Architecture in Spartanburg two years ago to help design their home. They hired Columbia's Jay Rogers to build his first green home.

Over the past couple of years, though, green building has started to gain momentum in South Carolina, said Claude St. Hilaire, owner of Home Energy Group in Mt. Pleasant, which provides green home certification through the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

The program has among the strictest certification standards in the country and has four different levels of green. The Switzers are seeking gold status, which is the second-highest level.

"It's actually gaining a lot of momentum," St. Hilaire said. "We're still going through a learning process. People envision solar panels and bamboo. It's a lot more than that. It's about making good decisions and searching out products that are environmentally responsible, as well."

The Switzers have the solar panels for heating water and the bamboo floors. But they get green points for a variety of other features, including carpet made from recycled plastic bottles, a door that opens outward so it seals tight during high winds and a runoff water collection system they use for irrigation.

Rogers said the home at $590,000 and 4,000 square feet did not cost more than other custom jobs the same size. The price of some green building materials, such as bamboo flooring, has come down. In other cases, costs were offset. For example, because the house was sealed tighter, the builder was able to use a smaller heating and air unit.

Even the solar water heating system made sense financially. With a $3,500 tax credit, it ended up costing about $1,000 more than a traditional water heater. Rolled into a mortgage, that's about $6 extra per month, estimated St. Hilaire. But the Switzers will save about $40 a month not having to heat the water.

Switzer said he couldn't be more pleased with his new home.

"It turned out exactly like we had pictured it," he said.

He also is happy that the project is starting to have an impact on those around him. He recently held a drop-in for neighbors so they could see the house and learn about all the green features.

One couple already are looking at using recycled rubber mulch - something they told him they never would have considered before.

His best advice for others thinking about building a green home?

"Educate yourself," he said. "It's still just such a new thing. ... That will help the whole process go smoother."