STEELE CREEK, N.C. -- Record high heat this summer created record demands on energy throughout the region. Water shortages brought on by drought created concern for conservation.
While utility providers began searching for ways to meet public needs, one area development already was looking to head off the next environmental crisis before it comes.
The Sanctuary, off Shopton Road in Steele Creek community on the N.C. side of the Buster Boyd Bridge, prides itself on being among the most environmentally friendly residential developments around. Each home is on a nature preserve and must meet community standards for conservation and energy efficiency.
The 20 builders used at the Sanctuary must adhere to strict environmental guidelines, Walker said, such as a 200-foot Lake Wylie buffer (twice the county standard) and limited sod, fescue and clearing. Inside, a point system controls electrical, water and heat output to limit excessive use. Sealed crawl spaces and natural lighting cut utility costs, and appliances use low amounts of water and energy. Even the trees help.
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"You're minimizing the effects of nature," said Joe Walker with Crescent Communities, developer of the Sanctuary, noting the shade from mostly wooded preserve sites. "That, in turn, also keeps the sunlight from beating down on your house, driving your bill up."
Fred and Cheree Culpepper were new to the environmental building concept after living in Charlotte the past 20 years. They're catching on, though.
The Culpeppers home at 9716 Sweetleaf Place was the first custom home in the Sanctuary to receive a "three leaf" rating for energy efficiency and conservation. Each home is given one, two or three green leaves depending on construction techniques and practices.
"We became tree huggers," said Fred Culpepper, noting they never were strict environmentalists prior to building. "The footprint we make on the environment is vital."
The Culpepper home includes standard Sanctuary features such as low water showers, toilets and dishwashers, along with recycled plastic rugs and carpet, sheetrock and concrete. The siding on the home, which looks like wood, is actually recycled concrete.
"The woodpeckers get real frustrated with it," Fred Culpepper said.
Many of those features, such as special insulation and lighting, cut down on utilities while some options -- such as the recycled concrete or plastic carpet -- cost no more than similar materials that look the same.
"An awful lot of things we did to build green and get that three leaf rating, they weren't any more expensive, and sometimes it was less expensive," Fred Culpepper said.
The key, Cheree Culpepper said, is to be educated and committed to environmentally friendly options.
"If you don't know that that exists, of course you aren't going to do it," she said. "Once you start thinking that way, it's like starting a low-carb diet. You start reading the labels and thinking like that."
While the Culpeppers' home is only one of many throughout the area, they want it to help as energy production and water use continue to increase. On Aug. 9, Duke Energy announced that customers in the Carolinas used more power the previous day than any day on record. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities also had its highest water-use day on record this summer.
For Crescent, options such as rain barrels, rain gardens and energy efficient appliances make the Sanctuary a good neighbor, Walker said. Homes are at least 15 percent to 30 percent more energy efficient than new homes throughout North Carolina and the country.
So, how can other new homeowners help? Look for ways -- both big and small -- to make a difference, Cheree Culpepper said, and then work with builders throughout the process.
"There are so many things you can do that are easier than people think," she said.