New Exhibit Has Visitors Thinking Green

The exterior of the SmartHome exhibit on the grounds of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry is seen May 22, 2008. This year, green building is expected to represent 6 percent of the residential construction industry, according to a survey conducted by McGraw-Hill Construction Research & Analytics for the U.S. Green Building Council. That's up from just 2 percent in 2005. (Photo: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
The bathroom tiles are recycled wine bottles. The hardwood floors are sustainable bamboo. And the sprawling garden gets sprinkled with rainwater collected in 300-gallon barrels.

From its recycled plastic deck to its solar-paneled roof, everything in and about the 2,500-square-foot home on exhibit just outside of the Museum of Science and Industry has been designed to show the public how easy it can be to incorporate environmental sustainability into their own abodes.

"We tried to look for ideas in every choice that we make in our homes ... hoping that everyone who goes through it will be inspired to make some change on some level," said Michelle Kaufmann, the Oakland, Calif.-based architect who designed the SmartHome. "Some people will walk away and want to do an entire new home or some people will think when they go for their towels next and go for organic linens."

In fact, green housing is growing even while the overall housing market is suffering, said Nate Kredich, the council's vice president for residential market development.

This year, green building is expected to represent 6 percent of the residential construction industry, according to a survey conducted by McGraw-Hill Construction Research & Analytics for the U.S. Green Building Council. That's up from just 2 percent in 2005.

"It is happening. But the industry needs to do a better job of getting information into people's hands when they're looking for it," Kredich said.

The goal of the Chicago exhibit, which runs through January, is to show visitors that saving energy and conserving resources are within reach of everyone - whether it's an entire house or a single feature, museum officials said.

The modular home, which Kaufmann said uses less than half the energy and a third of the water of traditional homes, includes a kitchen with a countertop composter and a sink made from concrete and fly ash - a byproduct of burning coal. Water from the bathroom sink is diverted to the toilet, where it is used for flushing. A bicycle in the children's bedroom must be pedaled for 30 minutes to charge a battery to power video games.

Visitors receive a resource guide that tells about the function of each feature, how they're assembled and where they can be purchased. The bicycle system, for example, was homemade from parts bought on an electronics Web site.

Jasmine Davis, 23, of Park Forest, who visited the home with her mother said the exhibit gave her tips for her own apartment. "I like not making a negative impact on the Earth," Davis said.

"It's got so much to be said for it because it uses nature and natural materials," said Robert Richards, 70, of Santa Monica, Calif., who visited with friends. "It's open. You bring the outside in and you can even bring the inside out. It's a house built for humans. It's plausible in real life."

David Johnston, who owns an international green building consulting firm in Boulder, Colo., said the exhibit is a great way to educate the public about green possibilities, but he hopes that the home's ultramodern architecture doesn't leave visitors with "the impression that green building has to be modern, weird, solar, ugly."

"One of the things that's fundamental to green building is that it can look like anything. It can be a regular Craftsman house or a Cape Cod house in New England or an adobe house in Santa Fe. You don't have to change what the home looks like to make it green."