N. Virginia Ave. Green Home Builder ‘Wouldn’t Do It Again’

Falls Church Times Columnist

May 9, 2010

For several months we’ve been reprinting the trials and tribulations of Wendy Koch, a USA Today writer who is documenting her experience in building a new energy efficient home on North Virginia Avenue. The articles have been among the best read in the Falls Church Times, and Wendy has encouraged us to continue to feature them.

Wendy and her husband originally planned to move into their new house last March. That didn’t happen, and in fact they still haven’t even knocked down the existing house, much less started building the new one. Delays in obtaining permits from the City are a big culprit. Perhaps funny to everyone except the Koch family is what I assume to be a typographical error in Wendy’s latest column in USA Today. She writes:

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t opt to build a custom, green-certified home. The process has been more costly and troublesome than we expected. We spent more than a year in design and the past four months in the permitting process. We expect to break down this month.

Well, we certainly hope you don’t “break down” this month, Wendy. Instead, we hope you will “break ground.”

City Councilman Dan Sze read about the Koch family’s frustrations in our series and commented to Wendy last March:

Hi Wendy. I can feel your pain. Something is not working here and it should not be to the detriment of your plans. Please feel free to send me a private email detailing your take on what is not working and I pledge to help resolve the issues that will allow you to build. As the “green guy” on City Council, I can do no less.

Wendy replied that she could certainly use Sze’s help, as she was ready to pull out her hair. But help or not, as of this week the old house remains standing.

Wendy tried to get permission for us to reprint her columns in full, but learned that we would have to pay USA Today $500 for the privilege. Since that’s a fair chunk of our annual budget, we’ll just continue to provide the links. Click here for the latest.

May 9, 2010 


8 Responses to “N. Virginia Ave. Green Home Builder ‘Wouldn’t Do It Again’”

  1. MBX175 on May 9th, 2010 11:39 am

    Are we getting just one side of the story here? How come we have never seen a comment from the people at City Hall who review the building plans? Did her architect or engineer follow the building codes and site plan requirements?

    Why not talk with a contractor who has experience with “green” homes. My money is that she is using contractors who aren’t familiar with the process and are learning as they go through it.

  2. Tim Stevens Falls Church City on May 9th, 2010 12:02 pm

    Here’s wishing you encouragement and better luck as you proceed. We are still at a point where people building homes that significantly reduce their carbon footprint should be held up as role models for the rest of us. I hope that after completion of your new home you can share with the community the key factors of it that best achieve positive environmental results, including your energy use (e.g. kwh/therms per square foot).

  3. Colin James on May 9th, 2010 2:24 pm

    The building permit process in Falls Church is ridiculous. We couldn’t even find a contractor willing to work in the city because of it.

  4. Gordon Theisz, City of Falls Church on May 9th, 2010 9:45 pm

    I agree with MBX – what is the other side of the story? It’s easy to criticize delays, but if the owner and builder didn’t have their ducks in a row, the city can’t approve the plans. I doubt anyone over there is sitting back drinking coffee thinking – “I’ll get to those plans later, I need to check my facebook account.” I’d bet that there are problems that need to be addressed.

  5. Kathleen Nixon on May 10th, 2010 2:40 pm

    I appreciate the fact that this may seem difficult but our green home only took 8 months and we completely gutted the house. The design build firm jumped at the chance to do the project and has used the lessons learned in other homes in the area.

  6. Hillel Weinberg on May 10th, 2010 3:56 pm

    Break “down” was a typo, and it has been fixed.

  7. Jim Bledsoe Falls Church on May 11th, 2010 8:16 pm

    I guess it wouldn’t matter if the story wasn’t in a National paper; however…….. There are a finite number of ways to get sideways with your permit approval. Let’s see…I’m serving as my own general contractor might slow you down (if you don’t understand the process)…….I didn’t think I needed an Architect, so I developed these plans on my own, could be another…….Easements can slow you up. I agree with MBX and Gordon Theisz, there is something beyond the usual going on.

  8. Patrick David, Falls Church City on May 12th, 2010 10:20 am

    My wife and I submitted our home plans to the City last October. After many months of diligently working back and forth with the City’s planning folks, we finally received a building permit last week. Nothing ‘green’ in the building plans, other than the green we spent in lost opportunity costs.

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