Interior Design and Merchandising
       ECU students measure “green house” effect

By: Russ Lay | The Outer Banks Voice | May 1, 2010
View original article here

Seven thousand-square-foot rental homes. Heat pumps rendered inefficient from the salt air. No vegetation or trees to shade structures. It’s enough to give Al Gore nightmares.

A partnership between Outer Banks BlueGreen, Resort Realty and East Carolina University’s Center for Sustainable Tourism is angling to help Gore rest easy while encouraging rental home owners to upgrade the “green” status of their investments.

Hunt McKinnon, a professor from ECU’s Department of Interior Design, recently brought two interior design undergraduates, Brenna Laffey and Eva Chan, and a graduate assistant, Stefanie Benjamin with the Sustainable Tourism Center, to the Outer Banks to conduct a survey.

Resort Realty worked with owners to give the students several homes to “audit” along with a condominium complex. The homes were built between 1935 and 2002, providing a wide range of old and new building techniques for the group to evaluate.

Willo Kelly of Outer Banks BlueGreen got the ball rolling with the Sustainable Tourism Center while Resort Realty’s Chris Toolan selected the houses and arranged for a home to be donated for the students’ weekend stay. Their purpose was to audit the homes and produce a report on how green practices can be incorporated into future repairs and improvements.

The Sustainable Tourism Center recently relocated to ECU and is nationally known. It incorporates interdisciplinary studies from architecture, interior design, economics, cultural history and public planning to help create and model environmentally sustainable resort areas.

While McKinnon briefed the students on what to look for, the all-encompassing approach to “greening” an existing structure was in evidence. It’s not all about water-saving washing machines or efficient heat pumps.

The professor reminded the students to evaluate the use of potential pollutants and harmful chemicals such as carpet fiber, adhesives and glues used in flooring and cabinets, asphalt parking lots, which can leech tars into the environment, invasive plants and storm-water runoff. Formica and certain vinyl floorings were also mentioned as potential problem materials.

On the exterior, students were looking at the use of vegetative shading, native plantings, roof colors and roofing materials, siding, septic systems, condition of heat pumps, solar/wind potential, water recycling and design elements such as dormers and covered porches and decks. Kelly asked the group to also evaluate the potential of water filtration systems to decrease the use of bottled water by visitors.

Toolan informed the group on issues peculiar to the Outer Banks. For example, when rental houses are sold, the new owners often make improvements. They change carpets, cabinets, counter tops and plumbing fixtures.

The goal is for the students’ final report to provide the rental industry with suggestions that owners can use to “green” their new investments. Because of heavy, wind-blown rains, Toolan also warned about problems with skylights and exterior French-style doors. Finally, he reminded the students that most homes are vacant in the winter, so owners are more concerned with air conditioning efficiency than heating efficiency.

McKinnon had to return to Greenville but expressed confidence in leaving the team under the supervision of graduate assistant Stefanie Benjamin. Before leaving, he armed his charges with measuring devices, swatch materials and an “audit book” for each to compile results.

The final results should be completed before the end of the school term and will be passed along to Resort, BlueGreen and the rental industry.

Kelly said she hopes the relationship with the Sustainable Tourism Center and ECU will continue as part of her group’s philosophy of “getting it right the second time around.”

Kelly and Toolan said “greening” these homes and eventually getting them BlueGreen certified will provide owners with a competitive edge in renting.

As a younger generation of vacationers enters the market, more environmentally aware than their parents’ generation, demand for green-compliant rental homes will go hand in hand with the growth in demand for eco-friendly tourism. In the future, owning a green-friendly rental home may not simply be a competitive option, but a requirement.

Thanks to a group of young ECU students, the road to achieving eco-friendly rental homes will likely be easier to navigate.


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