REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Why so big? Green is as green does


ADDRESS: 606 Monticello Avenue


ASKING: $619,000

ASSESSMENT: n/a new construction


SIZE: 2,648 fin. sq. ft./922 unfin.

LAND: 0.14 acres

CURB APPEAL: 8 out of 10

LISTED BY: Kay Robinson, Montague Miller  978-7452

Since it's Earth Week and we have to stay on the eco train a little while longer, we trundled across town to take in a new "green"– literally and figuratively– house in Belmont for this week's column.

Of course it meets all the requirements for inclusion among the ranks of the anointed: here's a list of its environment-friendly attributes in no particular order: Hardiplank siding (no paint or maintenance needed for years); Superior Wall pre-cast panels (sorta like the ThermaSteel for foundations) with R-12 insulating properties; engineered lumber (pressed from strands and chips); pressure treatment of deck wood with borate instead of arsenic; soy-based spray foam insulation; sustainably produced red-oak hardwood floors; low-volatile organic compounds in paint and floor finishes; Marmoleum (a sort of non-allergenic linoleum) in bathroom and laundry room; and finally, high-efficiency heat pumps and EnergyStar-certified appliances.

Other genuflections before the throne of sustainability are evident in the choice of builder and in management of the site: Lithic Construction is a local company with impeccable credentials thanks to their help redoing (instead of demolishing) the Nimmo house on Hartman's Mill Road ["Demo dilemma: When is an old house worth saving?" OnArchitecture, December 6, 2007], and Louisa Bradford, the architect and owner, claims the location of the houses on the lot (there are two exactly alike) was determined by the desire to save three old trees.

Other elements touted among the house's green creds are rain barrels at the bottom of downspouts, mulch made from left-over construction debris, and ceiling fans to lessen reliance on AC.

And since it seems today's buyers are motivated by save-the-earth impulses more than ever before, these elements will no doubt appeal to a certain segment of the market. But there has to be more to buying a house than high-minded, earth-saving inclinations. Let's face it– a tent in the woods is about as energy-efficient and earth-friendly as it gets, but not many people are going that route. Lots of people want a spicy dressing on their greens.

Here, what passes for spicy dressing might be the 9' ceilings in a large basement that's been pre-approved for an "accessory apartment," which means it can be rented out as a separate unit (with the addition of kitchen, etc.) if the owner lives upstairs. Other flavorful tidbits might be the granite counters in the kitchen– long runs of them, around the sink and over a long divider between kitchen and breakfast area– or the cherry cabinets and shelves beneath them in the divider, a really nice touch and smart use of space.

But other things about the house give us pause. The owner says the decision to use frosted glass in windows in stairwells was for privacy, but it seems a shame to eliminate the chance to look outside. Likewise, roof design dictated that windows in the very generous, cathedral-ceiling attic (we don't see one of those everyday!) are far above eye level. That means that if this level is ever finished off for living, the pretty views of greenery in all directions will be wasted, as anyone sitting at a desk or lounging on a couch up there would be looking only at walls. The same is true in several of the rooms– the dining room/den off the kitchen, for instance, and in the bathrooms.

But the oddly placed windows and the always-grim plastic showers (in a $600,000+ house, unforgivable, in our opinion), pale in comparison to the placement of the laundry room right inside the front door. While pocket doors separate that room and a half bath beside it from the entryway, on the day we visited it was open, and the huge front-loading appliances were the first thing our eyes fell upon. Since this room shares a kitchen wall, it seems that it would have been a no-brainer to close the room off to the entry hall and open the doorway to the kitchen. That way, weary hosts could toss after-party tablecloths and napkins right into the washer while loading the energy-efficient dishwasher and lobbing empty bottles into the recycling bin.

Another problem is the size of the house. Does a "green" house have to be nearly 3,000 square feet? We saw some energy efficient places up on Carter's View off Ridge Street that made a little less to-do about their "greenness" but exemplified smart use of space with small rooms and appealing design (including tile showers).

An old cliché can be modified to apply here: green is as green does. It's nice to be Hardiplanked and mulched and rain-barreled to within an inch of your life, but some people would also like to be able to look out the windows and have to heat about 1/3 less space.



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