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It's Easy Being Green 

Curious, barefoot droves descend upon Michael Lopez's 9th Ward home at least four days a week. The groups touch the home's walls, examine its appliances, watch its widescreen television and turn on showers just to feel the water pressure. But Lopez says living in a home frequented by strangers isn't as bad as it sounds — especially since, as other locals watch their energy bills skyrocket along with the temperature, he knows his monthly damages will total nothing.

Lopez's home is the first in a completely sustainable housing complex known as the Holy Cross Neighborhood Project. Its vision is the product of a contest sponsored by actor Brad Pitt and Global Green USA — an affiliate of Green Cross International — which called for participants to design an affordable, zero-energy housing solution for the blighted Holy Cross neighborhood in the Lower 9th Ward.

New York firm Workshop/APD's winning design is slowly becoming a reality in the previously vacant field next to the Andry Street Wharf, with the visitor center — which currently doubles as Lopez's home and office — being the first completed in the eco-friendly complex that will house displaced neighborhood residents. Rent for the apartments is expected to range from $225 to $1,075 per month.

Volunteers from the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association guide tour groups through the visitor center, explaining the "green" features that infuse every aspect of the house from area rugs to cabinetry. Paint made with water and soy (in lieu of the petroleum-based solvents that often emit toxic fumes) coats the walls. All household appliances are Energy Star-rated. The living room's widescreen television, with a display on par with a plasma, has an LCD screen that uses less energy. Faucets and showerheads contain aerators to supplement low water flow, a feature to cut back on water use, with air to create the feel of high pressure. And the tour guides' request for visitors to enter sans shoes? It's another measure to maintain the air quality of the home.

While tours come and go, Lopez — also the project director for the complex — is a constant fixture in this green house and a living example of a sustainable lifestyle.

"(Green living is) not life-changing, but it's pretty close to it," he says. "Especially when I look at the ceiling and realize that the ceiling fans are being powered by the sun, and that our air conditioning and heat comes from the earth. It's really an awe-inspiring type of feeling."

While he is experienced with green building — Lopez is a building scientist who worked with sustainable building organizations in San Antonio — and green living — he is accustomed to riding a bicycle and hanging his clothes out to dry — Lopez says that inhabiting the visitor center makes green living effortless.

"It makes it easier to live that way because everything is so energy efficient, you don't have to modify your behavior (as you do) in a regular house," he says. "Living in this house is actually not as hard as when I lived back home. This has made the green way of life much easier."

click to enlarge Michael Lopez at his totally green home, which doubles as the Holy Cross visitor's center. The inside of Lopez's home illustrates how everything you put in a house can be energy efficient and look good. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • Michael Lopez at his totally green home, which doubles as the Holy Cross visitor's center. The inside of Lopez's home illustrates how everything you put in a house can be energy efficient and look good.
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