It's more than fitting that a city given the nickname "Tree Town" so
many years ago has grown into a model for how to go green when it comes
to construction and remodeling. There are so many instances of true
green building in Ann Arbor that if there were a Green Tour of Homes,
the map would be spotted with must-see houses across the city's
landscape -- places big and small, near downtown and out of the way,
places that have preserved space, saved water, conserved energy, used
light and nature to their fullest effect and employed a smorgasbord of
methods for making sure a home or business doesn't suck the environment
of precious resources and bank accounts of equally precious dollars.
the University of Michigan, with projects like A Zero Waste Basketball
Game (held last weekend) and one of the strongest eco-minded policies in
building and purchasing in the country, would also be worth a look-see
on such a tour.
Michael Klement, owner of Architectural Resource
in Ann Arbor and a leading thinker in the field of sustainable
remodeling and building, would probably be the tour guide. His company,
founded in 1991, is behind many of the projects that have shined the
green light on the city by earning top honors -- including highly
respected LEED certifications from the U.S. Green Building Council
. These are projects getting the city notice around the country.
yeah, you bet, there could be a great tour," Klement says. "These
projects are throughout the city. What's neat about the projects we've
put together, each LEED project, is they're completely different. One is
a traditional Ann Arbor carpenter style, the other a contemporary,
raging modern home. The third is a comfy craftsman style look. The
fourth, which will be Michigan's fourth and Ann Arbor's fourth (platinum
LEED) whole house remodel, is a Zen contemporary. "Each is different in
style. That's what's so exciting."
Klement and other Ann Arbor architects, builders, and designers, including Meadowlark Builders
, AC3 Architects
and JS Vig
(which has opened a green think tank called Project Green
), along with professors at the University of Michigan, have all contributed to Ann Arbor's green rap.An academic approach
Terry Alexander, executive director of U-M's Office of Campus Sustainability
says the university is in a position to be a forward thinking leader in
the field of sustainability. "Ann Arbor is very progressive when it
comes to doing things for the environment," Alexander says. "So that's
part of the battle when it comes to convincing people to change things."
course, the changes are not only about saving energy, land and
resources, but also about saving money. "It all goes hand in hand," he
The goal for U-M is to be recognized as a world class leader in sustainability, he claims. With that in mind, Planet Blue
was launched earlier this year. Planet Blue and the Office of Campus
Sustainability outline goals and design approaches that will make the
campus of maize and blue one of the greenest around.
approaches are common, and not. Take the cars and buses on campus. They
run on electricity, ethanol, or biodiesel. The buses that transport
thousands of passengers each day are also run on alternative fuel. As
gasoline powered cars are taken out of service, they'll be replaced with
In a more creative approach, sports fans are
being asked to jump into the game. On Saturday (Dec. 4) basketball
spectators were asked to place their garbage in designated recycling
containers instead of the usual trash cans as part of the Zero Waste
In the campus offices at the business and
finance department, employees are being asked to monitor and limit, if
possible, the use of water, printers and copiers, lights, cleaning
products, and to hold green meetings.
Numerous campus buildings
are being changed to meet the highest energy standards, and all new
construction must meet LEED silver standards. University officials
realized many projects were meeting the standards anyway, but without
the official designation.
And when it comes to building or
buying things, contractors and vendors are being required to meet
specific green guidelines that amount to "one of the strongest
conservation policies in the country," Alexander says.Got LEED?
people call them pioneers, says Doug Selby, who co-owns Meadowlark with
Kirk Brandon, but he believes he and builders like him are employing
ideas about green construction that were introduced as much as 30 years
"We're really the second wave," claims Selby, whose company
is one of the largest home remodelers in the state. "Unlike the true
pioneers, we are seeing a massive change in thinking and education and
Klement has worked on projects with Selby and is
also witness to the change toward green construction, brought about in
part by Ann Arbor's success stories. "I would say that Ann Arbor is
definitely blazing trails in remodeling and home building and in green
building in particular," Klement says.
It's not just a boast.
Ann Arbor has several firsts under its belt when it comes to true green
building. It was the first city in Michigan to complete a LEED-certified
home and has gone on to top the list in similar construction. LEED is
currently the top merit badge when it comes to standards for eco-minded
In June, Ann Arbor was a stop on the U.S. Green
Building Council and Sierra Club's Cool City roving tour of cities. The
Cool City event attracted visitors to the city to learn about some of
the ground-breaking projects that had contributed to making Ann Arbor
the nationwide leader in platinum LEED certified homes.
are, our humble little Midwest city right in the middle of the Rust
Belt, a declining auto city, all the woes and everything else and we're
leading the nation in green building homes...per capita," says Klement.
"We're awfully proud of that."
Ann Arbor's standout homes also
earned green cred when two local homes were used as illustrations of the
not-so-big house movement in Sarah Susanka's latest book, The Not So Big Remodel
who moved from California to Ann Arbor in 1977, travels the country,
sharing his expertise and Ann Arbor's successes. He also brings home the
innovations and new thinking from the places he visits. Having worked
in architecture since 1983 and owned Architectural Resource since 1991,
the 51-year-old has a staff of six. Next week, he speaks at a green
building conference in Portland and Bend, Ore.
LEED platinum whole house remodel is the basis for one of my
presentations," he says. "There's this whole big thrust with looking
with a fresh eye at how we do what we do...motivated by the need to have
a healthy living environment, a need to reduce our impact on the
planet, and a need to address energy consumption."A shift in thinking
happening as consumers become more enlightened to the benefits of going
green, consumers who are becoming comfortable with the terms "low E",
"dual flush", "geothermal heating and cooling", "U factor", and
Selby has seen a significant change in
public awareness. "Five to six years ago people would say "Huh?" It was
more of a struggle to explain the benefits of green building," the MSU
grad explains. "Now the questions are about the nuts and bolts."
message that it's actually a good investment, not just a philosophical
or ethical approach, is getting through, he says, especially in Ann
Arbor, where there are highly educated people, people with disposable
income, and people with high LOHAS - Lifestyles of Health And
"It's a good environment where people understand
the benefits," Selby adds. "Like so many things, they're ahead on the
coasts, but we are definitely holding our own. The great thing about Ann
Arbor is its history of caring about the environment."
projects are among the green standouts in the city. And nearby in
Saline, his solar house with its potential to require "very near zero
net energy," has generated a lot of ink – always a good thing for a
Only seven years old, Meadowlark has a staff of
10 in its office and another 18 in the field, having added two
positions just this last year. "The company we have has allowed us to do
research, to understand the best practices and have access to the best
information,” says Selby. “That has allowed us to add to the
conversation about how to do things right."
isn't confined to just Tree Town. Within Michigan, a competition over
who's greener has been percolating between Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor.
And the challenge is serious, with Grand Rapids recently completing
construction on the first LEED certified art museum in the country, aggressively developing bike lanes
, and claiming that, per capita, it has the most square footage under LEED certification
"The whole Grand Rapids vs. Ann Arbor has been kind of cool...It's made Michigan a good center for this industry," Selby says.
agrees that the competition helps both cities. "It can help. The more
sustainability is a part of the conversation, the more it becomes the
norm. That's good for the entire state," he says. "Our intent is that
the term green building becomes obsolete...That all building will be
Kim North Shine is a Detroit-area freelance writer with a drafty, 1929-era home that begs for energy upgrades every winter. Her previous article was
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Except where noted all photos by Doug Coombe
Doug Selby in front of the LEED platinum and gold certified Spring Street Duplex
Michael Klements in the offices of Architectural Resources
The LEED certified Nautilus House by Architectural Resources and Meadowlark Builders - photo by Jim Haefner
LEED certified Spring Street Duplex - photo by Jim Haefner
Michael Klements in the offices of Architectural Resources
Doug Selby in the Meadowlark Builders office