The Green Lifestyle: Solar Installer Gets Green Home of His Own

Cameron Donnell has built his career in the green-building industry, previously working as an energy auditor and currently serving as a solar-energy consultant at Sugar Hollow Solar. 

Donnell and his wife, Whitney, began work with Josh Scala of Green Source Construction Management in 2019 to build their own green home. And yes, he installed the solar panels himself, with the help of some coworkers.

Given his background in the industry, Donnell knew going into the project that he and his wife wanted to create a net-zero energy home, something Scala’s company strives for regularly and was excited to support.

“Going in, they were all about being net zero, which was sweet,” said Scala. 

The Donnells’ home achieved Green Built Homes’ Platinum Net Zero level of certification with a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Score of -9. A building with a HERS Score of 0 is considered net zero. With a negative HERS score, this home will create more energy throughout the year than it will use, making it what some call a positive-energy home.

Because the house is located on a property with a relatively big drop-off, it made the most sense to have a full-size, daylight basement with finished living space, instead of trying to create another half-story above it. The basement has radiant-floor heating, which uses an electric boiler instead of gas heating.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get people into the all electric because they want to cook with gas or they want gas logs,” Scala said. “But typically when it comes down to it, they realize it’s the way to go. To be truly net zero, you have to have no gas.”

Scala has watched as the green-building industry has become more accessible over the years. Pricing has become more aligned with traditional construction costs as green building increases in popularity. 

When Scala started building in Western North Carolina, he was driving from his home in Black Mountain to job sites in Asheville daily. Today, all his work is in Black Mountain, with several homes being built within a mile of his house. 

The chance to build a home for the Donnells was a special opportunity for Scala. He said the project reflected to him the way that the green-building industry is gradually coming within reach of a wider variety of people.

“This was cool because she’s a nurse and he’s a solar guy and I got to build a house for regular folks,” said Scala. “A lot of times people think it costs more money to build than it is to buy. With a new house, you get everything that you want, where you want it, why you want it, without sacrificing cost. But this was the first time I built a house for somebody my own age. It was good to do.”

Creating a green building or a green home isn’t only about what goes into a project; it’s also about everything that comes out the other end. Scala works hard to be intentional about disposing of construction site waste. All the extra materials — cuts of drywall, wood shavings, concrete, insulation, plastic and metal — have to go somewhere. Statistics show that 40 percent of materials delivered to a construction site end up in a landfill. Scala reduces materials purchased on the front end, reuses materials where feasible, and recycles excess materials whenever possible. 

Green building is the future of building — more efficient, cost friendly and environmentally viable. That’s how Scala and the Donnells see it. That is why they choose to stay on the cutting edge of the industry. 

Hannah McLeod is a reporter at Smoky Mountain News, with which Green Built Alliance partners to publish its annual Green Building Directory.

You can also view this article as it was originally published on page 28 of the 2021-22 edition of the directory.