Joel Ross, an architect at the firm John C. Williams, has found the key to something rare in New Orleana: consistently low energy bills. Attaining this took some time, however. He outfitted his 130-year-old St. Claude Avenue home with an energy-efficient ductless air conditioning system, and he installed new windows to keep air in.
"There's no air leaks anywhere. It's not like any house I've ever lived in in New Orleans where when it gets cold, you can feel the air coming through the walls, windows and floor. Now you don't feel any drafts in my house," he says. "You can turn on the heat for a minute and heat the house up very quickly, or in the summer you can turn on the air conditioning and cool the house down. It's similar to a cooler, like a Rubbermaid cooler."
Ross' experience demonstrates how "green" building offers the potential for big savings, but the initial cost and time it takes to incorporate energy efficient appliances and building materials can be formidable. In an effort to highlight the benefits of sustainable living, the Young Leadership Council (YLC) created the Le Vert Tour, a self-guided driving tour of eco-friendly homes around New Orleans. The project grew from the YLC's Leadership Development Series, an event for YLC members to learn about developing organizations and projects through a series of seminars on various topics.
"The goal of the Leadership Development Series is to fill a void in the community," says Chappell Williams, a YLC member and executive assistant at John C. Williams, which is involved with many green building projects. "We thought (reducing carbon footprints) is such an important, current issue, and we wanted people to have an opportunity to see what's being done in our city."
To find houses for the tour, Williams tapped into a small, tight-knit network of enthusiastic homeowners.
"Most of the homeowners know each other pretty well. They've all crossed paths on their mission with trying to design houses both economically friendly and environmentally friendly," she says. "There's been a lot of trials and errors, but they've all done what they could with the resources we have in our city."
The 11 homes on the tour stretch from Mid-City to the Lower Garden District, Uptown and Central City and display an array of green building technologies including solar panels, low-flush toilets and ductless air conditioners like in Ross' home, which is part of the tour, as well as eco-friendly building materials and refurbished goods. The homes also maintain some traditional aspects of New Orleans architecture.
"There will be a good mix of old and new in terms of new systems in the house, like overhauling the air conditioning to be more energy efficient, to old strategies that have been in Louisiana for a while, like daylighting in single shotguns," Ross says. "We kind of forgot how to build like that in the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s. (The homes) utilize trends that have been in Louisiana for a long time along with the modern systems like the ductless air conditioner from Japan. (They mix) what the international community can teach us along with Louisiana's unique concepts."
At each stop on the tour, homeowners will be available to discuss their building experiences and answer questions.
"(The home oweners) are very passionate about what they've done to their property and they are very candid about the process," Williams says. "It's very entertaining and educational to hear about the hoops they had to go through and the people who helped them along the way."
Partnering organizations the Preservation Resource Center, Make It Right Foundation, Global Green and others also will be present in the homes to answer questions and talk about their services.
"There isn't really a profiteering interest here," says Amy Boyle Collins, YLC executive director. "There isn't one company self-interested in promoting something ... it's purely young professionals who are very interested in this burgeoning field who are exploring how it's been done, the lessons learned from it, in a very zero-sales-pressure kind of way. Usually if you go to home shows, you always have to be wary of the salespeople, or the sales angle. There's really not that here. These are just people interested in trying to live eco-friendly lives who are willing to share their experiences."
By emphasizing a lack of sales interest, the tour hopes to function as an honest discussion about green building.
"People will be honest about what systems did and didn't work," Ross says. "If you go to Home Depot or whatever, you'll probably be overwhelmed by all the green technologies and people touting their product as the best, and this way you can have maybe 10 people telling you what product did work the best."
The Young Leadership Council presents the Le Vert Tour
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
The tour is a self-guided driving tour of eco-friendly homes around New Orleans. Tickets are free with a valid ID. Guests can get the "passports" required to enter the houses on the tour at the Young Leadership Council headquarters (1840 Euterpe St.) on the day of the event. Visit www.youngleadershipcouncil.org for details and volunteer information.