Charleston Green: High-tech construction that’s moderately priced helping to boost interest in naturally-crafted homes

Verdi Co. built this flexible cottage in North Charleston’s Oak Terrace Preserve to take advantage of a large oak tree nearby and other natural enhancements (Provided).

Picture the sun’s rays heating a home interior; brisk breezes cooling things off inside; underground streams circulating hot or cold water that flows out the tap.

It’s indeed a pretty scene — and an expensive one, too.

Solar heat, wind power and geothermal are a few technologies available to builders to fashion energy efficient and eco-friendly homes. None of the strategies are cheap, either alone or in combination. Neither are insulation advances such as structural panels or thermal metals.

Still, that rarefied portrait may be not so out of reach anymore. Low-energy property costs aren’t as pricey as in the past, in part because of new technology.

“The nice thing is there are a lot more green building materials,” says Amy Hill, a partner with her husband David Hill in North Charleston-based The Verdi Co.

“It’s become more affordable,” she says. “Prices are coming down; people are being more sophisticated.”

Hill believes there’s an untapped market for energy-efficient homes. Accountants are running the numbers on new state tax credits for environemtnally sound home building practices, she says.

“We are getting more people willing to do that,” Hill says. “I think a lot of people love to build when (costs) come down.”

Verdi Co. describes itself on its website as a “professional design, development and construction company specializing in cost-effective green building.”

Based in Asheville, N.C., for about a decade, Verdi relocated to the Charleston area and has now been headquartered here for about 10 years.

The company’s specialty involves designing houses with Structural Insulated Panels, or SIPs. The framing materials are made up of “two sheets of plywood” with insulating foam fitted in between. “It’s very strong,” Hill says. The panels, teamed with a steel frame, allow for “tight construction.”

Verdi got its big break in terms of steady business as one of the builders at North Charleston’s eco-friendly, value-priced Oak Terrace Preserve. In its present construction phase, “We’ve got two ramping up, two with foundations and two more building soon,” she says.

Another local contractor, James Island-based New Leaf Builders headed by Grant Zinkon and Adam Baslow, focuses on “low impact” developments that try not to disturb the environmental footprint.

A notable neighborhood is Fox Hollow, situated off Woodland Shores Road on James Island.

“Our primary goal in designing Fox Hollow was to modify the land as little as possible, so that a natural, healthy ecosystem remains intact,” says Joshua Robinson of Robinson Design Engineers, a civil engineer. The property has been left as natural as possible, clearing only enough land for the houses and roadway, according to the builder.

Fox Hollow offers nine bungalow-style craftsman homes with “radiant roof barriers to help deflect the sun’s ultraviolet rays” and extras such as composters, rain cisterns and bio swales for storm water runoff.

“One of the core values at New Leaf Builders is to maintain the natural integrity of any area where we build,” said Baslow, co-owner, builder and developer for New Leaf Builders.

Founded in 2011, New Leaf Builders’ structural efforts include using insulating concrete form construction in its semi-custom or custom properties. Insulated concrete forms serve as extra-strong insulation for walls, roofs and floors. Interlocking units are filled with concrete to make them durable yet eco-friendly.

According to New Leaf, the ICF technology is “the industry standard for robust climate control and allergy mitigation, excellent fire retardation and strong storm resistance. It’s not only energy efficient, but it’s sustainable as well,” the company says.

Upcoming work for New Leaf Builders consists of five lots in Bohicket Oaks, a waterfront community off of Bohicket Road; plans for a future James Island community; several custom build properties on Seabrook Island; a new office space on Maybank Highway; and a future Johns Island community, says Alyssa Smith, company spokeswoman.

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Like many builders, Verdi Co. took a tumble during the housing slowdown in the late 2000s. “We had business drop off for a while,” Hill says. At the same time, the venture’s distinct building efforts may have set it apart. Most of its projects during the slow times involved well-off buyers more concerned about energy savings and environmental benefits than the construction costs.

“I have told people before, if we didn’t have our distinction for SIPs, we might not be around,” Hill says.

Verdi offers solar heating panels as an option, but its tried-and-true energy-saving product involves SIPs. “We try our best to not make this exotic,” she says.

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Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or