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Buford couple keeps environment in mind while building house

BUFORD

When Matthew and Suzanne Holtkamp's new home is finished, it could grace the pages of Southern Living.

Its Greek revival style evokes the great antebellum homes of Covington and Madison. At nearly 7,000 square feet, it's going to be an eye-catcher.

But the Holtkamps want people to notice something other than its aesthetics.

They want people talking about the airtight thermoplastic and galvanized steel exterior walls known as Polysteel. And what about the solar panels? How about the reflective metal roof?

Those are just a few of the construction materials and methods for new their "green" home - so self-sustaining the Holtkamps won't need to worry about the power company.

"We want to be good stewards of the earth," Suzanne said. "God has given us a beautiful gift and it's our responsibility to take care of it."

The Holtkamps are passionate environmentalists, but many homeowners may adopt similar strategies to save a buck or two.

Just as nearly $3-a-gallon gasoline prompts American drivers to conserve gas, more homeowners are at least trying to cut power.

While no one has started calling this the "green" home movement, the Holtkamps are not alone.

The federal government was trying to unite energy conservation and home construction long before the recent gas price hikes. Now, it's encouraging the idea with tax incentives.

Ten years ago, the Department of Energy's Building America program began treating the house as a system, the way aviation already treated its planes. The approach looked at how each part of the house fit together.

"It was a new concept in the building industry," said Building America Project Leader George James said. "That's what made us pioneers."

From there the idea caught on at the state level through programs like those at Southface Energy Institute, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that works closely with Building

America.

Southface launched a pilot program seven years ago designed to give environmentally-conscious homebuilders a road map. Known as EarthCraft House, the program has 3,000 Georgia homes that follow its guidelines for solar power, indoor air quality and water conservation - all methods the Holtkamps plan to use.

"It's a holistic approach," said EarthCraft Development Director Dianne Butler.

Another 170 Georgia builders have also joined the program. Even developers are on board.

That may be surprising, given the increased building expenses for "green" materials and methods. Typically, they add about 3 percent to the overall home costs.

"It's a little more expensive," Butler said, "but in the end they save so much more."