Provided by the Cincinnati Green Education Advocacy and Lohre and Associates, Inc.
One of his new owners, Debbie and Ken Welsh on St. Peter St., looked for more than one year for the perfect next home to renovate and flip. Then they met Craig and saw the great location and river views his lots offered and they were hooked. The Welshs had lived in the area for almost 15 years and lived all over the tri-state. Their 3500-sq.-ft. home has geothermal wells that are 200-ft. deep.
All photos by David Steinbrunner.
Stephanie and Fred Skurow raised their family in the Cincinnati suburb of Indian Hill. Now the kids have left home and it was Stephanie’s turn to decide their next move. She had always wanted to live downtown, next to her job at a regional bank.
More than 100 corporations worldwide now are using targets that have been approved by the group’s team of experts for emissions reductions that align with the goals of the Paris Accord. (For more on the Paris Accord, see: “Look Beyond the Paris Accord Pullout.”) These targets are called science-based because they reflect the level of decarbonization necessary to hold global temperature increase below 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures.
16 years later we are reaping the benefits of the implementation of those suggestions.
Thanks to the Fortune 500 companies in downtown Cincinnati for contributing to the "Bank" that would lend money to those that wanted to rebuild in OTR but couldn't get a loan. Traditional banks could find no comparables so no loan. Even in 2014 one homeowner at the corner of 14th and Elm Streets went to 46 banks seeking a loan to renovate a 1800s building into three units. It got LEED Platinum in 2017.
His first custom home job commenced in 2015 and by 2017, he and his team had started 15 homes. Mark grew up working with his Grandfather building homes and decks. That’s where his obsession with tool collecting started and if was just logical to put them to work building club houses for his friends as well as stating a lawn mowing business. Mark studied accounting in college but still continued to collect tools and work on major projects around the house until he purchased a fixer-upper to entertain he and his wife on weekends! Mark continued to rehab homes until in 2012 he decided to start Redknot Homes and quit his CFO job. Redknot has continued to grow every year since then and 2017 was a record year for custom homes with 15 started.
But Mark doesn’t just build custom homes anywhere, he specializes in building into the hillsides along the Ohio River and throughout the region. Mark also specializes in second homes for families looking for something different. And young professionals who grew up in traditional homes and want something uniquely their own. Also, business professionals that are relocating from Europe are a segment Mark likes to serve. Former builder, Perry Bush is Redknot’s home designer, and Audbry Welsch is Redknot’s interior designer, she helps with hardware and finishes selection. Contemporary modern versus ultra modern is what is popular now. Redknot also builds for other architects.
Chad Puckett and Jerry Reeves are principals and partners in Fold and Form. They cut their teeth on another very famous LEED project, the Christian Moerlein Lager House at The Banks. They worked at Tilsley Architects (Moerlein’s architectural firm), Chad for 15 years and Jerry for eight, when they decided to join forces creating Fold and Form, an architecture and construction firm. The name comes from the way origami folds to create a three-dimensional form from a two-dimensional piece of paper. Fold and Form targets LEED Platinum for all its projects, so they’re prepared for whatever LEED level the homeowner wants to go for (Christian Moerlein Lager House is the first LEED project involving the Cincinnati Park Board, which owns the lease on the property.)
Fold and Form’s latest projects consist of two homes on Mulberry Street and a third on Corwine Street. The Mulberry Street pair are multi-story rowhouses across the street from one another. One is dark gray brick with black mortar, a modern twist on the traditional red brick in OTR. Every structure in the historic districts of Cincinnati needs to be approved by the preservation board. It wasn’t too hard to get them to approve the dark brick or the more traditional stone look of the home across the street, but it was harder to get the board to see that many of the homes on the hills surrounding the downtown flood plain had their backsides blown out into floor to ceiling glass to show off the incredible views. They got those features approved for both projects. One is LEED Platinum pending, and the other is LEED Gold Certified, but the owners might go ahead with more improvement to achieve Platinum within a year.
The home on Corwine is a different story. I spoke to Tony Alexander, the owner, about the project that has been going on for three years. It’s going for LEED Platinum because of the unlimited tax abatement on the structure. Tony is putting more than $563,000 into a home with a glass wall between the living space and his car collection. The Cincinnati LEED tax abatement is in tiers. As you achieve higher levels of LEED, you get more tax abatements on the value of the structure. The property tax on the land isn’t abated. If you achieve LEED Silver the tax abatement is on the first $285,000 of the structure, LEED Gold is $563,000 and for LEED Platinum it’s unlimited. That price doesn’t include his car collection! Tony’s building a home with his car collection as part of the architecture! The very large first floor has a glass curtain wall that allows the showroom area to be visible from the living room when the traditional overhead garage door retracts into the ceiling.
Tony likes the idea of very efficient home that’s capable of living off the grid. He’ll have a Tesla Powerwall that will store the excess power generated by the 32 solar panels on the roof. “It Looks Nice,” Tony said about the Tesla Powerwall battery for the planned 65 HERS score residence. HERS stands for Home Energy Rating System, used by the U.S. Green Building Council to third party verify LEED homes. HERS 65 means it will be 35 percent more efficient that a typical home in Cincinnati. The biggest hurdle Tony had to overcome was the appraisal of the project so he could get a construction loan. Initially, there were no comparables. When he started out the typical home in the neighborhood was $20 per square foot, now it’s not uncommon to find $400 per square foot projects in the works.
Since 2002, the city of Cincinnati has granted 10-year tax abatement on structures. In 2007, the city added an additional five years to the tax abatement for those receiving LEED Certification. In 2011, the LEED tax abatement became tiered for Silver, Gold and Platinum levels of certification. Because of the tax abatement, nearly every new home in Cincinnati is LEED Certified and builders have become quite familiar with how to do it cost-effectively.
Another important catalyst was Cincinnati’s history of tax abatements. Since 2002, the city of Cincinnati has granted 10-year tax abatement on structures. In 2007, the city added an additional five years to the tax abatement for those receiving LEED Certification. In 2011, the tax abatement for LEED became a bit more layered and difficult. Now, owners must achieve LEED Silver to receive a tax break on the first $285,000 of the structure’s value. LEED Gold has a limit of $565,000, and it’s unlimited if the home achieves LEED Platinum. Because of the tax abatement, nearly every new home in Cincinnati is LEED Certified and builders have become quite familiar with how to do it cost effectively. The standard has become even more difficult with the U.S. Green Building Council’s increased requirements for measurable environmental benefits in Version 4 of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) launched in 2015.
In January 2018 I interviewed Jim Carroll, 36-year owner of Carroll Custom Builders, Inc., about the three homes he is building to LEED standards. “We were already building ‘green’ before getting involved with LEED,” Carroll says. He likes the fact that LEED requires contractors to “build to a higher standard.” Initially it was hard to find low VOC paints and caulks, but the manufacturers have caught on quickly, Carroll recalls. He has sold all of his LEED homes in Cincinnati within a few weeks of completion. “The Cincinnati LEED tax abatement has stopped people from moving out of the city and improved the housing stock,” Carroll explains. “You get points for infill lots and being close to shopping. It’s a good thing to build to a higher standard,” he explains, “The owners will save in the long run and Cincinnati will be more viable long term.”
Owners understand higher efficiencies in HVAC and the better health effects of using lower VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints, carpets and caulks. Carroll Custom Builders included a geothermal heating system in the homes even though the Federal tax abatement was scheduled to end in 2016. Carroll was hopeful it was going to be reinstated, and it was retroactive to January 1, 2017; "Great News!!!" Jim emailed. The super high efficiency of geothermal is one of the primary reasons his homes can achieve LEED Platinum without a rainwater holding tank. There wasn’t enough room on the three-story 3596 and 3598 Handman Avenue infill sites for a storm water holding tank, but there is an elevator going to the top floor master suite. The 5120 Shattuc Avenue site is going for LEED Platinum and does have room for a rainwater tank as well as geothermal HVAC.
Carroll learned energy efficiency back in the 1980s when he quit his desk job and started working for a custom builder in Vail, Colorado, constructing earth berm homes. He got the building bug as a newly minted Notre Dame graduate with a finance degree working for Fahlgren & Ferris, a Cincinnati advertising agency. He was working on a homebuilding supplier’s ad campaign when Carroll had an epiphany, realizing: “I can do this.” And has never looked back.
LEED for Homes Certification level credit decision story
The LEED for Homes Rating System provides a basis for quantifying the benefits of green homes, thereby facilitating the widespread construction of more sustainable homes. One of the first steps in planning a LEED home is to adjust the certification thresholds based on the material and energy impacts. All else being equal, a large home consumes more materials and energy than a small home over its lifecycle. LEED compensates for these impacts by adjusting the thresholds for each award level. Thresholds for smaller-than-average homes are lowered, and thresholds for larger-than-average homes are raised. A home’s threshold for LEED Gold may be 72 points. A 4,500-sq.-ft. home with five bedrooms would be about 85 points.
In the end, the homeowner will have a well built and third-party certified home. Passing the blower door test alone is significant. Blower door tests are used to prove the air sealing quality of the construction. During the test the home is depressurized to -50 Pascal and measurements are recorded throughout the home to verify that outside air isn’t leaking into the home at a rate higher than required. It proves the home won’t be drafty and uncomfortable. Contrary to those builders who tell home owners that homes need to breathe for fresh air, it is much better to control the ventilation rather than allowing shoddy construction of leaky vapor barriers to supply fresh air to the home.
The LEED Certification system is broadly categorized into five equally important parts that demonstrate measurable environmental benefits: Site, Water, Energy, Materials, and Indoor Environment Quality. The following is a review of the features of this home according to the LEED for Homes system.
Prerequisites include building above the 100-year floodplain, not habitat for endangered species, built no closer than 100 feet to water or wetlands, land that wasn’t a public park and land that doesn’t have prime, unique or soils of state significance. Excavated topsoil was reused; runoff was controlled, so it didn’t contaminate storm water sewers or erode hillsides.