Sunday, September 18, 2011

General feature: Habitat works with local builder to go green for large family

See Original story here.

By Janet Brindle Reddick, Special to the News & Record
GREENSBORO – Architect Steve Johnson has designed several homes for Habitat for Humanity. Four of his plans have been used at least three times, many to create homes for Greensboro families.

But during their latest partnership, they needed to design a home for a larger family – and on a specific site that had its own limitations, all while keeping Habitat’s commitment to quality and to green building practices.

The house at the corner of McConnell and Dunbar streets will soon be home for a Montagnard family with seven children. So this building needed to be larger than a typical project. The trick was planning a space big enough for the needs of the family, without being out of character of the rest of the neighborhood.

“This is probably the first home where the site was an important factor in the design,” Johnson said. “We had to be consistent to the scale of the other homes.”

Johnson, a principal architect for Southern Evergreen in Summerfield, worked with Megan Ackerman, a 5th year senior at Auburn, on the designs for the home. When the home is finished sometime in February, the family will be able to move into a 1,700-square-foot, two-story home, with an open floor plan and a wrap-around porch. The Craftsman design matches the architecture of other existing homes. It is just across the street from the new Willow Oaks neighborhood. The master suite with lots of storage is on the first floor and four more bedrooms will be upstairs – all big enough for bunk beds.

“There was a little more planning on the front end,” said Phil Barbee, director of construction and land development for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Greensboro. “It is an older neighborhood, so we tried to pick up on the Craftsman flavor of the neighborhood.”

Barbee said this floor plan works for larger families, but it might also work for another growing client base – migrant families with multiple generations or extended families living in the same home. This plan can be used as a prototype for other Habitat groups elsewhere.

“I like this plan,” Barbee said, “and we hope to use it again.”

Besides the extra space, the appeal of the design is that it is so energy-efficient and will be built using green building techniques and green materials. But that approach was not unique to this home.

Barbee said Habitat homes have had energy-saving components since 2002. It just makes more sense for the homeowners to have more affordable energy bills.

The group took it to another level in 2008 during the Raising Roofs Builders Blitz, a biennial event with the Greensboro Builders Association. It was during that time that Southern Evergreen’s plans were used to build four homes that met NAHB Green Building-Gold standards.

And those sustainable building practices have carried through to projects today – including this home, which is also being built to that standard.

Some of the sustainable materials include:
• The foundation is made from North Carolina bricks, which only travel 300 miles to arrive at the site.
• The insulation is blown cellulose made of recycled newspaper.
• Light-colored shingles applied on foil-backed roof sheathings reflect the sun’s heat and keep the attic cooler.
• Plants used in landscaping are low-maintenance, drought-resistant and are planted in such a way to provide shade to the home in the summer and to allow sun in the winter.

The methods of construction they use matter as well. Builders now use closed crawl spaces and design a fresh air intake into the design. Framing techniques are used to allow for less material waste and greater efficiency.

Finally, homeowners are educated in the maintenance of the home, and the ways that they can make their homes most energy-efficient.

Habitat is leaving its green mark in the community in more than just the 350 homes that it has built in Greensboro. Johnson, who serves as a co-chair for the Greensboro Builders Association Remodelers Council, said that during the 2008 Builders Blitz, more than one of his colleagues told him that they learned a lot and that they had increased their awareness of sustainable building practices – which they are now using in their work today.

“We have seen some commercial, for-profit builders adopt some of these techniques,” Barbee said. “We are setting a new standard for low-income housing that’s above and beyond.”

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Revisiting The Scenic Route: A Sampling of Blog Posts

The News & Record’s Travel Blog, The Scenic Route was a place for consumer tips, travel ideas and destinations. It was also an ideal place to talk about odd news items, things we saw around us, and news of the day. Each Sunday, we printed a couple of items in the print edition that had crossover appeal. Here’s a sample of posts that ran throughout the run of the blog's history. My last day at the News & Record was on July 10, 2011, so this is the posting date:

Wedding gifts that give back 

Spring is in the air (or all over your car) - and that means it's also time for lots of weddings. Which means it's time to start thinking about coming up with creative wedding gifts. Sure, you can always rely on the trusty registries. 

But if you're talking to couples who think they have everything, you might suggest to them something that would be good for them, their guests and even a charity they support. 

One place to try is the Traveler's Joy Honeymoon Registry (, a partnership with the Just Give/I Do Foundation, a group that specializes in charity registries. It's a honeymoon registry, but part of it goes to charity, too. Who wouldn't love that? Everyone wins. 

Theme Parkeologist? Wish I'd thought of that 

So for years, people have been telling me that I need to figure out a way to turn my useless knowledge of Disney and travel stuff into a career. 

Turns out that George and Andrew Taylor beat me to it. Luckily, you can take advantage of their wisdom at a program sponsored by the Friends of the Library at the Asheboro Public Library, 201 Worth St., at 7 p.m. Thursday ( 

By day, George manages the Archdale Public Library, and Andrew is an investment banker in Greensboro. But they are Theme Parkeologists and have a blog about Disney ( At the library event, the men will share planning tips and some secrets about the parks . 

Ask them about utilidors, Hidden Mickeys and whether a Dole Whip or a Mickey Bar is better. (Clearly, a Dole Whip is better.) 

A holiday happy hour? 

In the spirit of the holidays, American Airlines has decided to give you a little gift this December. If you happen to be on a flight that departs between 5 and 5:59 p.m., you'll be able to buy booze for $5. 

In-flight happy hour for December saves you a buck on beer and $2 on wine and liquor. Thanks. Nice. But what would be a nicer gift would be to waive the checked baggage fee for the month. Or guarantee on-time departure. 

I guess we have to take what we can get. 

A new spin on fitness 

I saw a great ad this week in The New York Times for New York Sports Clubs. 

The ad copy was something to the effect of "Are security pat downs the most action you've been getting lately? Be proud of your next TSA scan. Start working out today." 

Take out to Thailand

So when you work nights at the News & Record, our "lunch" is actually dinner. I didn't have time to pack lunch today, and I was craving Chicken Pad Thai. 

When I walked into Thai Garden on Tate Street to get the takeout, they had a stack of CD brochures called "The Electronic Journey through Amazing Thailand" that were there for the taking, being distributed for free by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. 

Talk about getting your message into the hands of the right audience? Now, this is direct marketing. 

"Hey, consumer. You like Thai food. Wouldn't you like to have some authentic Thai food and come see our wonderful country?" 

So, I think I'll pop in this CD and go for a little free vacation. Fun, right? You may not have the CD, but don't fret. Here's the website for you to check it out, too: 

(Also, here’s a tip: I ask the folks at Thai Garden to make my Chicken Pad Thai medium spicy. Gives it an extra little kick.) 

Spend your $9 well! 

Good news. According to a report from this week, the average cost of a plane ticket this season cost less than it did last year. 

Nine dollars less to be precise. The average is down to $422 from $431. (Wow. That seems kind of high to me. I guess I'm lucky to fly to pretty common cities with a lot of traffic where fares tend to be a little lower.) 

My favorite part about this is that when The Associated Press reported it, they said "holiday fliers may have more cash left over for putting gifts under the tree this year." 

Yeah. I guess. If you shop at the dollar store, that is nine more gifts. Go crazy! 

Vacation rental advice

If you haven't booked your beach cottage for the summer by now, you're probably out of luck for that perfect oceanfront house at a great price. But that doesn't mean that you can't still get a good deal on a vacation rental.

And while many people think of renting vacation homes for the beach, most of us forget about that option when we go other places. But why wouldn't you want that kind of space and those kinds of amenities at other locations - especially if you're traveling with a family or a large group? has a comprehensive collection of great vacation rental advice on its website ( In addition to talking about rental search websites that you may already be familiar with, such as VRBO and Flipkey, as you go through the Frommers' presentation, it focuses on specific popular destinations, including Hawaii, Orlando, France, Ireland and the UK, and Italy.

The most important part to read is the advice on doing your homework and how to protect yourself - with insurance. You don't want to make the investment and go in blind. And remember, if a deal sounds to good to be true, it probably is. Some of these deals may not be cheaper than a hotel, but they could give you more space.

Your very own 'castle'

Some people really like Disney. For those folks, the good capitalists have offered patrons a chance to "own" a real estate interest in the Disney Vacation Club. Yes, you get a "deed" for your interest, but in 50 years, your timeshare is up and then you are sad.

So for the true fans - let me rephrase that - for the true, rich fans, there is another option: Golden Oak. No, this isn't a retirement home. The key here is "Golden." As in, you must have access to gold if you want to live at Disney.

Live at Disney? Yes. It's true. No, you can't actually live in the Magic Kingdom, but the houses in this community are close enough for you to hear the whistle of the train.

But why do I bring this up now? Well, if you buy soon (as in before the end of the year), there's a bonus. The recently announced "early buyer" bonus gives you five Golden Oak VIP passes per household, valid for five years. This provides you with admission to all four theme parks, both water parks, DisneyQuest, free parking, discounts for shopping and lots of other perks. A Florida resident could get this premium annual pass for about $531. So that's a $13,275 value.

(Let me stop right here. I'm not selling anything, or suggesting that you go buy a $1.5 million to $8 million home to get free passes. But at the rate ticket prices are going up, maybe it could be worth it. Just kidding.)

I am fascinated by this project. Walt Disney wanted people to live at EPCOT, in a sort of Research Triangle Park community, where people would work and play. It never materialized. Golden Oak is the first residential community built within the 44 square miles of Disney World itself. To learn more, go to And by all means, if you actually end up buying a house and need a Disney concierge, do let me know.