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Features of a Green Home: An Interview with Ben Bonham of Bonham Asset Management LLC

By Ben Bonham

Tell us a little bit about your company and its foundation.

We have been in business since 2002 although we dabbled in real estate prior to incorporating. We began flipping homes in 2000 by purchasing delinquent properties at Sheriff Sales in Allegheny County. Flipping homes was profitable but became very competitive as money flooded the system so we decided to hedge our bets by branching out into residential rentals as a way to provide cash flow while we rehabbed and marketed properties to flip.

What are some of the services your company provides?

Our core business continues to be managing our own residential rental properties in the western suburbs of Pittsburgh close to our present home in Moon. We do provide management services to a few clients but concentrate on maximizing the potential of real estate in our own portfolio.

In 2005, we acquired a one acre parcel of undeveloped land along with a 10 unit multifamily in Carnegie PA. Carnegie was recovering from a devastating flood caused by Hurricane Ivan. Although there was significant damage to the downtown Main St., we were impressed by the community that seemed to have an inherent vitality to succeed.

So while we made improvements to our Carnegie rentals we discussed the possibility of developing the vacant land that was just four blocks from a very walkable Main Street (Carnegie walk score @ 69) and only five blocks to I376, a highway to everywhere. The community has definitely gone through revitalization and we are excited to be a part of the renaissance.

In 2007, we began our development plan. It was decided early on that we would only build the type of home that we would want to live in. Relying on our experience as property managers, we knew that any home that we lived in or built would have to prioritize energy efficiency and low maintenance. First floor living was also very important along with a connection to the out of doors. Our plans were taking shape at the same time "green" building became a popular movement in the country. We compared our goals with green populism coming to the realization that "we were green!"

Once we decided to join the green movement, we established our goals for success: affordability, energy efficiency, sustainability, environmental responsibility and the adherence to the concept of universal design/accessibility. The latter being more a function of our age than our business objective.

Please list features for newly built LEED Certified/Green Homes that make them more energy efficient and please explain each feature a little:

As far as LEED is concerned, when we started development and planning E Lane, in 2007, LEED did not offer a residential option. We chose the only residential standard available at the time in Pennsylvania and that was Energy Star. Phase I of Carnegie E Lane LLC obtained an Energy Star 5+ rating with a HERS score of 69. This score was achieved primarily by the use of SIPs (structural insulated panels with 6" walls/10"roof) for our exterior construction, high efficiency Andersen 400 Series casement windows and a significantly beefed up insulation package in our pre-fab high density concrete foundation walls.

Today's green features like recyclable materials, water usage reduction and interior air quality weren't taken into account in the Energy Star module like they are today in the LEED requirements. We are confident however that if we had been subject to that criterion we could have scored very high having addressed those issues in our design.

For someone who wishes to improve the environmental impact of their current home, what do you suggest they do?

To improve the environmental impact of any home ,we would just clarify that "impact" to us is not so much carbon emission reduction as cost reductions in current and future dollars. If you already own a home, then the most obvious improvement would be window & door replacement with higher efficiency products, high efficiency heating & cooling and as much insulation as you can afford to install. As property managers we discovered that just replacing non green items like older (3.5 gal) toilets, carpeting and counter tops that had not exceeded their life cycle was not cost effective. Having said that, most upgrades that we do now are done with sustainability & longevity in mind.

What is the process of getting a home "LEED Certified?"

The current LEED process is both time consuming and expensive. To obtain a LEED accreditation requires hiring 3 professionals: The "provider" that packages the building project and is an integral part of the design team. A "rater" to verify performance and a LEED AP (accredited professional) that submits the project to the LEED council.

The estimated cost per home is about $5000. We think the jury is still out on whether or not LEED is a primary reason for purchasing a home. So at this point we have not made the final decision on whether to try to obtain a certain LEED score (bronze, silver, gold or platinum). As far as Carnegie E Lane Phase II is concerned we will probably follow previous goals for success and let the LEED score fall where it may.

What is the average price different between building a home and building one that is more environmentally friendly oriented (i.e. is it more expensive?)

As to the "cost" comparison of building an environmentally friendly home compared to a standard home being built by the large national or local builders it always comes down to the old argument of price versus cost. Can you build a home that is not green for less? Yes without a doubt! But if you factor in the future costs of maintenance, the replacement of standard building materials such as 25 year asphalt roof with a longer lasting 45 year metal roof and include the future cost of energy it becomes a lot easier to justify the initial price of a green home especially when homes can be financed at these current low interest rates.

What is the easiest way for people to contact you or your business?

We plan to start construction of E Lane Phase II in the spring of 2015. We can be reached at bamllc@comcast.net or by phone 412-264-6682. Website: www.elane.biz.

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About The Author

Ben Bonham is owner and manager at Bonham Asset Management LLC.

Phone: 412-264-6682

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