By Erin Crowell
When it comes to living green, its about getting the most bang for your
buck without leaving a considerable carbon footprint in your wake. The
U.S. Green Building Council has developed a standard that allows
homeowners to do just that through its LEED program (Leadership in Energy
and Environmental Design).
LEED provides verification that a building was designed and built with a
focus on energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction,
improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and
sensitivity to their impacts.
Northern Michigan is now home to such a building: Located near Kingsley,
the Granite Hill project is a LEED-certified home, rated gold on a
100-point scale. Other categories include platinum, silver and bronze
Its the first LEED home in Grand Traverse County, earning national awards
for its green assets and serving as a model home for the 2009 Michigan
Its really exciting to be at the forefront, We take a lot of pride in
it, says Joel Diotte of Frontier Construction, who, along with partners
Matt Diotte and Pete Stern, was the builder for the Granite Hill project.
Frontier specializes in green construction, although Granite Hill, named
for the collection of granite rock on the lot, is the companys first LEED
The companys main construction product is insulating concrete forms
steel reinforced concrete with foam insulation and poured concrete on the
inside. Diotte says its the most energy efficient building system
available, which is why Frontier was recommended for the Granite Hill
A SLEW OF SAVINGS
Insulated concrete forms provide just a fraction of the energy-saving
products inside the home.
Theres a whole slew of things that make it energy efficient and
environmentally friendly, says Diotte.
The list includes James Hardie fiber cement siding, Energy Star rated
metal roof shingle with 30% recycled material, Low-E argon gas-filled
Anderson Windows, soy-based insulation, stained concrete floors, radon
venting, dual flush toilets, low flow plumbing fixtures, Zero VOC
(volatile organic compounds) paint, compact fluorescent bulbs, Energy Star
appliances and more.
The soy byproduct insulation is the same as petroleum based, but its 100
percent renewable product, says Diotte.
The home also features a solar hot water heater which works so well, that
the homeowners called me in November saying they couldnt use both
showers, says Diotte, Theyd been living there for four months and
didnt even have the electric water heater turned on. They were using just
the solar hot water heater. A lot of people question whether solar hot
water heaters work in Michigan, but they do. Its the most cost effective
renewable energy source.
Designed by Eric Hughes of Image Design in Grand Rapids, the house boasts
a passive solar design, an architectural trick that civilization has long
People used to think of the design a long time ago, and just dont any
more, says the homeowner (who wishes to remain anonymous).
He points to the Anasazi tribe of New Mexico, which occupied mainly cliff
and mesa-top dwellings around 1,000 AD.
The tribe situated their dwellings so that the winter sun would fill and
warm the space during the season; and during the summer, the position of
the sun would mostly keep the dwellings under shade.
Houses used to be designed like this in the early 1900s and when heat
became cheaper, people were like, screw it, he adds.
The Granite Project uses passive solar design in the same capacity, with
overhangs that shield the house from the highest point of the sun; and in
the winter, sunlight floods and encompasses the space. The house was also
placed on the lot that would give it the best angle in relation to the
COST EFFECTIVE HOME
For the Granite Hill project, the average cost was $130 per square foot.
Not much more than a stick frame house of the same construction and
size, says Diotte.
He explains the goal of LEED certification is to not have the house cost
more than what a typical house would cost.
The house relies on zero fossil fuels and maintains an average utility
bill of $85 per month, year-round.
Since September, its actually been down to $75 on average, says the
homeowner, who also points to their Tulikivi masonry heater as their
primary source of heat.
My wife actually makes the comment a lot about our families homes
downstate that use forced air, and when we go to visit we would say, man
this place is cold, and their heat is at 70 degrees, he says. In our
house, when weve got a fire going, its shorts and t-shirts, no problem.
The masonry stove, directly shipped from Finland, was the biggest up-front
cost in the Granite Hill project, but so worth it in the long run, adds
the homeowner. We felt bad about shipping 900 pounds from Finland. Thats
a pretty big carbon footprint. But then, we thought you do that once, and
youll never have to hook up to carbon gas again. All of our future heat
will be from the backwoods.
The homeowners invested 2.5 years of research before breaking ground,
mostly to ensure the safest, healthiest and most cost-effective home for
We try to maximize benefit for cost. Some ideas come from the builder,
the homeowner and the designer, says Diotte.
The LEED certification seemed like a great way to get everyone on board.
It gave us a guideline to follow, says the homeowner.
Currently, there is no tax break for buildings that are LEED certified.
However, there is a plan in legislation that will give breaks according to
the level of certification based on points. Energy Star is the only tax
break incentive, offering a break for homes that are 30 percent more
efficient than the standard in 1980.
Which isnt that great, says Diotte. If the tax break goes through,
then LEED will be the future of green building. Its definitely the most
The homeowners say they are proud to have the first LEED certified home in
Grand Traverse County and believe they wont be the last.
I hope to see more of it around here, he says. You dont have to build
a half million dollar house to do it. We didnt.
Frontier Construction is located in Maple City. For more information on
services and upcoming projects, visit their website at
www.frontier-construction.com or call 231-360-3534. For Image Design,
visit imagedesignllc.blogspot.com or call 616-957-LEED.