Gary Woods’s home is finally about five weeks from completion. The lot that Woods’s home sits on today was once just a parking lot covered with clay bricks. Now, seven years in the making, his home is nestled in the coveted King William district among finely manicured lawns and numerous historic houses; but, Woods’s home is a little different. What sets it apart from all the rest on the block and practically every house in San Antonio is that it is certified green.
Green homes are essentially meant to impact the environment in a much less harmful way and are also intended to promote better health through natural air flow. They require the use of durable materials and the conservation of water and energy through well-insulated, shuttered windows, low electricity requirements, and low-flo plumbing fixtures. As a result, utility bills are significantly lower. Last month, Woods spent a grand total of $15 on his electric bill.
Woods, who is employed as an architecture librarian at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s downtown campus, does even more to conserve energy by walking to work every day. “It’s real tempting just to buy a suburban house in San Antonio, but after everything I wouldn’t change a thing about my home,” he says.
Due to the uniqueness of your home have you gotten any passersby curious about your house?
A lot of people were thinking that these were two separate cottages that were up for rent. When we were building some people were thinking that I was the contractor and some people were just wondering what I’m doing. I only give tours to my neighbors, though.
Can you tell me about your house? How does it distinguish itself from a regular home?
Basically it’s just a well-made, old-fashioned house. It’s not about the materials, it’s about the orientation. Just like the houses in the King William area, it’s about the windows and how they face the southeast. They get a cross breeze with the high ceilings. I don’t use any electricity at all because there’s plenty of light. There are ceiling fans in every room, even in the bathroom. It is a little bit inconvenient in the winter because I have to walk to and from the buildings, but it’s no real big deal; it’s just a couple of steps.
Now with the Metropolitan Partnership for Energy and Build San Antonio Green do you think San Antonio will gain an awareness of being green? Do you think it will be integrated more in a few years?
I don’t know. When people think green they don’t quite get it because when they think green they think of solar panels on the roof and recycled materials and things like that. But really the way that it is for me is the way that house is orientated to the sun and how it’s orientated to the breeze. Even in August, when you open up all the windows you can get a breeze. People don’t understand that that is the natural green principal, just having natural air and light. What makes the house work is every room has windows on three sides. So, in the summertime I open them all up and in the winter I can close them all up and since the windows are so well insulated it’s OK. The house is super-well-made with a metal roof and the foundation is real heavy duty.
So there are no solar panels on your home?
No, nothing like that. No hallways, no wasted space. Everything is used. The idea is that you can open all the windows up. Something else that people don’t realize is problems with moisture from showering or cooking. These big commercial buildings always have the air conditioning on to get the moisture out, and that wastes a lot of energy.
Have you always been an environmentalist?
Well, not really consciously. I’m used to walking everywhere though. I lived in central Austin for 16 years. I have to admit I’m not that great about recycling.
Are far as costs are concerned, how much does it differ from building a regular house?
I don’t think so much, really. This was expensive because it was a custom house. The only cost I can think that would make a substantial difference financially would be if you make a house that’s going to be comfortable without air conditioning you have to have a lot of windows. You can’t have a big square house because you can’t get a breeze going on.
I think there’s more public awareness now, even with celebrities coming out and talking about it. I think Ed Begley Jr. now has a show on HGTV about living a green life.
Yes, I saw that. He pushes all these environmental issues. I think he just likes to test out all the toys.
How much research did you do prior to building your home?
My very first conversation with my architect Stephen `Colley` was to start with the courtyard and then build around it. My dream house is that every room has a patio and a set of French doors that open up to the patio, and that’s kind of what I have here. It doesn’t really fit the traditional green-house concept, but the core part is that I walk to work and the house uses all natural air and natural light.