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Green Acres

by: Jonathan House, Glen Friedman of West Linn helped design his 3,045-square-foot environmentally friendly home. He says he now uses 40 percent less energy than before, when his family lived in a smaller house.

Many Portland-area residents think living green isn't just about going through the motions of conserving energy: recycling plastic bags, installing low-flush toilets or buying organically grown vegetables.

For them, living green is all about building green.

Matt Briggs of Lake Oswego grabs the wall of his home near a double-pane window.

'Do you see how thick this is?' he asks, measuring the width of the wall with his hands. 'Cement block walls. Now that's green building, and it's highly underrated.'

Briggs didn't build his home in the wooded First Addition of downtown Lake Oswego, but for the last nine months he's been working to make it as green as possible.

In the attic, Briggs is eager to pull at the insulation. He grabs a handful of what looks like laundry lint. The blown-in cellulose, according to Briggs, is nothing more than 85 percent recycled and shredded newsprint sprayed with nontoxic boric acid as a fire retardant.

All of the appliances in Briggs' home are energy-efficient. A new front-load washing machine uses less than half the water, one-third the detergent, one-third to one-half the electricity than his old washer and the high spin wrings twice as much water out of the clothes, so drying takes half the amount of time and energy. Briggs is excited when he talks about the energy he saves.

'You're looking for places everywhere to cut electricity,' Briggs says, as he gives a short tour of his home pointing out an unplugged microwave, an unplugged television and stereo and power bars that creep across the front of the living room.

Since January, Briggs says he has reduced his yearly energy use by more than 80 percent. And with solar-water heating, a solar electric system and the purchase of renewable power from PGE, Briggs' house runs entirely on renewable electricity.

'More and more general members of the community are becoming aware,' said JoEllen Carothers of Portland's Office of Sustainable Development.

While Carothers' office only keeps tabs on green construction within Portland, she notes that building green seems to be an exciting trend for the region.

Briggs' home will be one of two outside Portland featured in the 2006 Build It Green Tour - Portland. The self-guided tour of 20 homes is set from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 16.

An information fair will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Environmental Building Supplies, 819 S.E. Taylor St., Portland.

Tickets and more information on the tour are available online at www.sustainableportland.org or at Environmental Building Supplies.

This will be the fifth year for the Building Green and Solar Home Tours to be held in Portland. This year 12 Oregon communities hosted or will host tours of energy-efficient homes in their areas. The tours are sponsored statewide by Oregon's Department of Energy, 3E Strategies and Energy Trust of Oregon.

Each of the tours showcases and spotlights real-life green design solutions.

The West Linn home of Glen Friedman also will be featured on the tour.

Friedman, who had a hand in designing his home, said it was a good example of how green building did not mean sacrificing design.

His 'old Portland'-style home sits along a man-made inlet of the Willamette River. The 3,045-square-foot home includes solar panels for an electric system and water heating, his deck and carpeting have both been made from recycled content and the hardwood floors are from Forest Steward Council.

Friedman and his family have lived in the new house for two years. According to his calculations, the family is using 40 percent less energy than when it lived in a 2,100-square-foot home.

'As long as you do it right, bigger doesn't necessarily mean more expensive when it comes to energy,' Friedman said.

Standing outside one sunny Saturday morning, Friedman stands in front of his PGE electric meter staring at the blinking digital numbers. The numbers don't move. He smiles.

'Right now, we must be creating as much energy as we're using,' he said.

Briggs and Friedman both seem to agree that the most important aspect of building green is trying to wean away from dependency on the electric grid.

Friedman's home was designed to catch daylight with rows of casement and awning windows, which also catch the cool gusts of wind that blow in from the river.

The windows serve as ventilation as well as provide natural lighting for an entire side of the house during the day.

For Briggs, who has read between 200 and 300 books on the environment in the past few years, conserving energy isn't just a hobby; it's a necessity that everyone should look into.

'If you have any scientific gear in your brain, there's no way out of it,' Briggs said, referring to the mounting information about the concept of global warming and the adverse effects on the environment.

'Nature bats last, and it's her playing field. You can't use ideology when it comes to laws in the universe. She'll trump whatever you've got.'