RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Here in California, the construction industry will soon have to meet new environmentally friendly building standards, but a law that takes effect next year faces criticism from some places you might not expect.
From Santa Monica, Ethan Lindsey reports.
ETHAN LINDSEY: Dr. Paul Song walks around a half-built modern home he and his wife are constructing for more than $1 million. The house is just blocks from the beach in a very posh Santa Monica neighborhood.
Dr. PAUL SONG: Well, I think the first thing you see is the wood is all blue.
Dr. SONG: ...and what it is...
LINDSEY: Song points out what will be the home's green features, things like the nontoxic blue wood, a urinal that uses 100 percent recycled water, and a floor heating system.
Dr. SONG: All the floors are concrete, but in it it's radiant heat that's going to be powered by solar. Basically this floor will always be nice and warm for my wife, who has cold feet.
LINDSEY: When the house is finished, it will be the first 100 percent energy-independent home in the city. The home meets and even goes beyond the eco-building standards set by the city and the state. And it will be certified as platinum under the U.S. Green Building Council's residential L-E-E-D, or LEED, rating system. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It's the industry standard and essentially a green point system. Sean King is the general contractor.
Mr. SEAN KING (General Contractor): So you get a certain amount of points. There's categories. There's energy. So each category has a certain amount of points, and we have to achieve, I believe it's 100 points to (unintelligible) platinum. Yeah.
LINDSEY: The state law requires all government buildings achieve at least 50 points, certified LEED silver. But preservationists say this point system, and the whole new push towards green, is leading historic buildings out of the equation. Specifically, the National Historic Trust says LEED points overvalue new construction.
Linda Dishman is the executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy. She says preserving old buildings should get more points than it does.
Ms. LINDA DISHMAN (Executive Director, Los Angeles Conservancy): If you save a historic building, you can get up to three points. If you use recycled carpet, you get one point. Is saving a whole building really the same as recycled carpet?
LINDSEY: Historic advocates are working with LEED to up their points and also promote other building standards that weigh historic preservation more heavily. Dishman says ironically old buildings are actually greener than new ones because of embodied energy.
Ms. DISHMAN: Embodied energy is how much energy it takes to build a building. So you have a craftsman home in a lovely historic neighborhood. You have the redwood that was trucked and shipped in. And then if you tear that all down, all of that historic fabric gets shipped off to the dump.
LINDSEY: In fact, Dishman claims some studies show that it can take 35 years or more for a new energy-efficient building to recover the carbon used to build it. And yet that fact doesn't mean much because new buildings are just more fun for architects to design and are just plain cheaper for developers to build.
Mr. BRENDAN MCENEANEY (Green Building Adviser): I think everybody would agree that historic preservation is important in and of its own right.
LINDSEY: Santa Monica's green building adviser is Brenden McEneaney. He says problem is, historic preservation can just be too difficult and too costly.
Mr. MCENEANEY: You can't just sell people on a green level; this kind of has to make financial sense as well. And to the market at large that maybe isn't thinking first and foremost on a green perspective, that's where you have to be directing your efforts at.
LINDSEY: Back at his home site, Paul Song says yes, this home will be brand new, but he did his best to preserve some of that embodied energy.
Dr. SONG: What people won't realize when they drive by the house is that we did the first 100 percent recycled demolition. We tore this house down nail by nail, brick by brick.
LINDSEY: Those nails and bricks were then shipped to build other homes in Mexico. And some of the old wood torn down from the previous house will be used as floorboards in the new one. In this case, it's a compromise for both sides. It's just not on a budget that all homeowners can afford.
For NPR News, I'm Ethan Lindsey in Santa Monica.