Just by looking at it, you couldn’t tell Adam Bauer had the first, and so far, only LEED certified home in Wichita.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, developed 11 years ago by the U.S. Green Building Council. To become LEED certified, homes undergo inspections and are rated based on eight criteria, which improve energy and water efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and improve indoor air quality.
Bauer learned about environmentally friendly building while studying construction management at Kansas State University. He saw it put to use working jobs in Chicago and Phoenix.
When he returned to Wichita to join Bauer & Son, his family’s 63-year-old construction business, Adam Bauer wanted to bring those practices to his hometown.
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Bauer likes that his home looks so similar to others in his east Wichita neighborhood, near the corner of 21st and 127th streets. Nearly every aspect of the house is subtle in appearance but powerful in its effect on the air, energy and water.
“This isn’t some kind of weird, off-the-charts construction no one has ever heard of,” Bauer said. “People who are involved in building do a lot of this stuff already and don’t even realize it.”
Getting LEED points can be as simple as putting in a shoe rack and bench near the garage door, or a tiled area by the walk-in basement door, so people don’t track dirt through the house. That improves the inside environment and increases the house’s life.
You may not be able to see the difference. But Bauer said during construction last year you could smell it. Because you couldn’t smell paint drying.
That smell from new paint comes from volatile organic compounds (or VOCs), which can make you sick indoors. The paint in Bauer’s house doesn’t include those chemicals. The carpet in the basement didn’t have a “new” smell, either, produced by formaldehyde, which can aggravate asthma and may cause cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Formaldehyde also is a component in the glue for many kitchen cabinets — but not in Bauer’s house.
Bauer figures his house saved loads of oil and gasoline by buying many of the materials locally. Sheet rock for the interior walls was mined and made in Medicine Lodge. Sheet rock is made from gypsum. Medicine Lodge is in the Gypsum Hills. National Gypsum has a quarry and plant there.
The problem was getting contractors and distributors to make that distinction.
“We heard, ‘I’ve got a warehouse full of sheet rock, how am I supposed to know which ones came from Medicine Lodge?’æ” said Laura Heagler, who helped with the house’s planning. “But we told them we wouldn’t take anything else.
“And you know what? If everyone in Wichita insisted on getting their sheet rock from Medicine Lodge, every piece in that warehouse would be from there,” Heagler added. “Because they would know that’s what their customers wanted.”
Perhaps the most high-tech feature of Bauer’s house is the lawn’s sprinkler system. Its controller communicates by satellite with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It only runs when there’s not enough rain to adequately water the lawn naturally. It has its own well, so it doesn’t draw from the drinking water supply. Landscaping includes native, drought resistant plants.
The average home in Bauer’s neighborhood costs around $200,000. He said a home such as his may run 10 to 12 percent more.
It’s paying off.
Bauer’s electric bill averages about $100 to $120 a month for his 2,100-square foot home, that includes four bedrooms and three baths. Everything in his house runs on electricity, so there’s no gas bill. His water bill averages $30 a month.
Because Bauer’s house is all electric, it’s also set up to run on solar power — some day.
“The convenants in our neighborhood wouldn’t allow that,” Bauer said.
Take a video tour of the house