Going green comes to Suffolk

Published 10:20 pm Wednesday, December 16, 2009

When Hurricane Isabel blew through Virginia in 2003, some residents of Badger Road in the rural area around the Suffolk’s Great Dismal Swamp found themselves without power for more than a month.

After 33 days of waiting for Dominion Virginia Power to restore her electrical service, Linda Stewart was sure she never again wanted to be at the mercy of the power company’s schedule.

That’s when she started thinking about going “off the grid.” If all goes as planned, she’ll finally achieve that dream next summer, when she finally moves into the new EarthCraft-certified home that is being built on her 14-acre property.

For Stewart, though, the new home is more about saving the planet than about saving the headaches of dealing with the power company.

“I’m an old hippie, a tree-hugger from way back,” she said during a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday.

From the ground up, the 4,600-square-foot, three-bedroom structure has been designed to satisfy Stewart’s passion for the environment.

The home will feature redundant “green” power sources, “sustainable” construction techniques and materials and a design that incorporates the latest ecological advancements, according to Keith Greer, general manager of Ebb Tide Construction and Development, the company that did the design work and will be in charge of construction.

“This is state-of-the-art, high-tech stuff,” Greer said from a soggy field in front of the mobile home where Stewart and her son have lived since moving to Suffolk from Virginia Beach.

“She moved here to build this house,” 17-year-old Dalton Stewart told the contractors and guests attending the groundbreaking ceremony.

After her family sold its business, Contractor’s Paving Co., Linda Stewart said, she was finally able to find the time and the money to follow that dream.

And it’s likely to be an expensive dream, as Stewart has set out to prove that “Earth-friendly” does not necessarily require the life of an ascetic.

Finishes in the home will be top-grade, Greer said, with Australian Cypress wood flooring; granite countertops; stone entries; sprayed-on closed-cell and cellulose insulation, including in the crawlspace and attic; a captured-rainwater irrigation system and more, all of which are expected to drive the price to around $800,000.

The environmentally sensitive flourishes, though, are supported through tax breaks and, at least theoretically, will partially pay for themselves in the long run.

A geothermal mechanical system is expected to be much more efficient than other HVAC choices; highly efficient windows and highly insulated walls, ceilings and floors will ensure a tightly closed system; and the home will be powered by both wind turbines and solar arrays, which could generate enough power to sell back to Dominion.

Engineers still have not performed a necessary energy audit, but the structure is expected to be one of the most energy efficient in the city when it is complete.

Linda Stewart is hoping for a “Tier 3” designation — the highest — from the Earth Craft House program, which helps provide a framework for designers and builders developing energy-efficient homes in the Southeast.

“Building an EarthCraft House is about constructing a healthy, more valuable home while minimizing environmental impacts,” according to the EarthCraft House Web site.

That suits Linda Stewart just fine.

“Go green!” she encouraged the small group attending the groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday. “Save the planet. Save the whales. Save the Bay. Save the rainforests.”