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TERRA Time

Sustainable clearinghouse ready for the public and a buyer.

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The area's newest green house is hoping for the distinction of another color: platinum.

The University of Memphis' recently completed TERRA house — technologically and environmentally responsive residential architecture — in Uptown is applying for LEED for Homes platinum status.

"That was our goal coming into this project," says Eric Criswell, one of the principal owners of DPC, the general contractors on the university project. "We said let's go ahead and set the bar high, and we believe we've done that."

Under the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED program — leadership in energy and environmental design — certifies high-performance green homes as silver, gold, or platinum. If certified, TERRA will be the first residential project to obtain platinum status in the state of Tennessee.

"Oftentimes, when people think green, they think straw-bale houses," Criswell says. "We want to show that you can do green and make it beautiful at the same time."

DPC already uses five green items in the houses it builds: insulated concrete construction, energy-efficient windows, spray-foam insulation, high-efficiency heating and air systems, and tankless water heaters.

But the TERRA house also includes a number of other green features you won't find in many other places: solar panels, bamboo floors, a metal roof, and the state's first gray-water recovery system.

"We want to reduce our carbon footprint," Criswell says. "That's the idea behind locally originating materials; that's the idea behind rapidly reproducing materials and durable products."

The home's 2.1 kilowatt solar system, which cost about $20,000, is expected to generate half of its utility usage. TERRA is also one of MLGW's Generation Partners, which means it can potentially sell electricity back to the Tennessee Valley Authority, MLGW's energy supplier.

Other features of the home, such as the metal roof system, are designed to lower utility usage.

"If you've got a shingled, asphalt roof, you don't have a good solar reflective index. The sunrays are hitting that shingle, which is then transmitting heat into the structure. We want the sun to reflect off of it," Criswell says. "We want to make sure at the end of the month, you're saving money."

The gray-water recovery system collects water from the sinks and showers, cleans it, and sends it back to the toilets — dual-flush, low-flow toilets at that.

Criswell says his company would definitely do another gray-water system in the future: "I think you'll see more and more of them as these projects progress."

People involved in TERRA hope the public will begin to see more of all of the home's features. The university designed the project as a clearinghouse where the public and industry professionals could learn about new technology and features for sustainable homes.

To that end, the house uses 99 percent post-consumer recycled sheetrock, carpet tiles with 75 percent recycled content, a central vacuum with the canister outside to improve the indoor air quality, reclaimed bricks, and built-in shelving that doesn't emit formaldehyde.

But the project also has resulted in students who know how to build sustainable homes.

Alzbeta Bowden and Mary Carroll are two U of M architecture students who have been involved in the project since its inception.

"When we started all this, I knew there had to be a better way to do things, but what that was, I didn't know," Carroll says. "This has shaped my whole life and career."

Carroll will graduate in August and says she already has been asked to do consulting on green projects. "I want to build more houses just like this," she says.

Bowden has started a sustainable design firm with a friend.

"The house may be done, but the mission that TERRA started ... is just the beginning," she says. "Now more than anything, the work starts."

The U of M is expected to build houses similar to TERRA in South Memphis or the university district.

The U of M will host a ribbon cutting at the TERRA house Friday, February 27th, at 9:30 a.m. The house will then be open to the public for tours the entire month of March, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.

The house is priced at $200,000.

"We're selling it at cost," Criswell says. "Someone is going to get a great deal."

Visit memphisflyer.com to take a virtual tour of the TERRA house.

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