REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Easy green: Riverbluff model aims for eco-glam

ADDRESS: 100 Riverbluff Circle


Woolen Mills

ASKING: $575,000

2005 CITY ASSESSMENT: land: $75,000; structure unknown (structure incomplete)


SIZE: 3,266 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 0.13 acres

CURB APPEAL: 10 out of 10

LISTED BY: Laura Winn Smith of Pace Real Estate Associates, 817-7223

Although Kermit the frog lamented that it isn't easy being green, this house may show how relatively effortless it can be. Among numerous eco-friendly features, the architect chose only those "green" options that are affordable enough to keep the cost in line with non-green construction of roughly the same size and quality. In fact, the architect designed the house with exactly that goal in mind, to create an example for local builders and buyers of how green they can be without significant added expense.

Taking into account that adjacent comparable lots are selling for about $120,000, this house costs roughly $450,000, or about $138 per square foot– pretty good in this housing market. And the convenient location on a hillside just above a bend in the Rivanna River provides views of a forest, greenery, and twinkles of the river, thanks to the Riverbluff development plan that left much of the 20-acre site undeveloped by clustering the 22 lots close together.

Situating the houses about 20 feet apart encourages casual contact with neighbors, lessens the environmental impact on the site, and improves the views from every house.

With 10+ years of experience in sustainable architecture and planning, architect Richard Price has been teaching courses at UVA on the topic for the past five years, in addition to having been the director of community design for eco-luminary William McDonough's architecture firm that does "green" projects worldwide. That experience shows in the ambitious design of this house, one of three models in the development.

Price's description of the style as "single-family loft" aptly evokes the high ceilings, wide open spaces, and abundant daylight (and passive solar heat) that pours through the low-E windows. The sense of space is further magnified by the light colors throughout the house, including reclaimed maple floors, off-white walls, and maple cabinets (in the kitchen and baths), complementing spacious interior dimensions.

The middle and bottom floor both have a big 38' x 18' room, allowing multiple configuration options for a dining area, living room, den, rec room, office, studio, etc. The middle and upper levels have 10-foot ceilings, and the master suite upstairs includes a large walk-in closet and a bath featuring shower, tub, and two-basin sink area. The countertops, like those in the kitchen, are gray- and white-flecked soapstone from Nelson county.

Two other upstairs bedrooms share a large full bath that includes a niche for a washer and dryer.

The green features of the house include soybean-based spray-in-place foam insulation (R-30 in the walls, R-50 for the roof), low odor paint (minimal off-gassing), water-based sealants and coatings, a high-efficiency heat pump, and exterior decking of composite lumber (made from recycled plastic).

The marquee elements are a vegetated roof of sedum (groundcover plants, 6-10 inches tall and more bushy than grass, that need little water) and a whole-house-ducted "Energy Recovery Ventilator." All modern houses that have a very tight building envelope must have a mechanical air circulator to bring in fresh air, but this ventilator does so while water pipes capture the cooling or heating energy in the outgoing air and transfer it to the incoming fresh air.

Low-tech green elements include linoleum floors in the bathrooms, an attractive stained concrete floor in the basement, and cement-fiber exterior paneling, all of which are made from plentiful or rapidly-renewable natural materials (cork, linseed oil, sand, or crushed stone).

The design makes this house a case-study in how green technologies can enhance a house without busting the budget.

By the same token, this house is an indictment of the many builders and architects who haven't started integrating environmentally responsible features like these.