The mountains of western North Carolina are getting greener, and it's not just because of the approaching spring. The Southern Living Homes Group has announced that it is building its first green Idea House in Whisper Mountain, a new conservation-oriented, master-planned mountain community in Madison County near the booming and progressive city of Asheville.

Designed by Bill Allison of Allison Ramsey Architects and under construction by Rob Moody's green building firm The EcoBuilders, both of Asheville, the 3,085-square-foot 2008 Southern Living Idea House harkens back to the farmhouses indigenous to the area. It incorporates many of the traits typical of Madison County farmhouses, such as front and back porches, low-pitched front-porch roofs, high-pitched gable roofs, large overhangs, lots of clapboard, and metal roof claddings.

The traditional exterior architecture is combined with a more contemporary open floor plan, and most rooms are oriented toward natural light and long mountain views. An adjacent 1,141-square-foot garage with second-level guest-house is styled as a traditional barn, and echoes the main house's elevation.

Along with partially panelized construction, the house uses many energy-efficient, healthy, and sustainable features, including rainwater catchment and graywater systems, reflective roofing, spray-foam insulation, a high-efficiency HVAC system, energy recovery ventilator, on-demand water heaters, mold- and termite-resistant borate-treated lumber, low-VOC materials and finishes, recycled-content materials, and wood milled from trees on the site. It will be rated as an Energy Star house, certified under the NC HealthyBuilt Homes program (the state green home building program), and certified as a U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold house.

The green Idea House is slated for completion in June 2008, and then will be open for public tours through August.

"We really hope to show that green can mean a lot of things," says Kristen Payne, director for the Southern Living Homes Group. "You don't have to live off-grid in a straw-bale house to be considered green these days."

Partnering with The EcoBuilders is an important part of the equation; the Idea House team wanted to work with a builder who was passionate about green building and had substantial experience. Since its formation in 2003, the company has completed two-dozen custom homes, renovations, and spec houses, one of them LEED-certified and all others certified under the NC HealthyBuilt Homes program and rated under Energy Star. According to Moody, his company is making strides toward certifying all its houses under the LEED for Homes rating system.

"Our motto is: Green is here," Moody says. "Green is here now, the market wants it, the customers want it, the architects want to spec it, and it's time for the builders to follow suit. And a lot of them are."

Though it is a prominent project, the 2008 Southern Living Idea House will not be the first green-built residence in the area. One of the primary reasons the company chose the area for its first green Idea House is the local interest in green living and in preserving the beauty of the surrounding landscape. "Asheville is so ahead of the curve as far as the mentality of the folks there," Payne points out. "They've got lots of local artisans making things, and it's a green community. The people were living the [green] lifestyle before it became a buzzword."

Much as Austin is a hub of green building activity in the Southwest, Asheville is the green building hub in North Carolina, according to Allison, and the city appears to be emerging as a hub for the green building movement in the rest of the Southeast, Moody adds.

The City of Asheville recently resolved that all new city buildings will be built to meet LEED certification, and several green-built communities have been developed in the past few years. There are 110 homes in the western North Carolina region actually certified under the NC HealthyBuilt Homes Program, and currently there are nearly 700 more in progress throughout the region, according to the NC HealthyBuilt Homes Program of Greater Asheville.

In the past year and a half, architect Allison has seen a significant increase in requests for green homes from clients, builders, and developers in the area. "In fact, if you're developing in this area and you're not thinking about green, you're going to get a lot of opposition," he adds.

The increased local interest in green building simply echoes a national trend. It may be surprising that the green home market is doing so well when the rest of the home building industry is in such dire straits, but Moody sees the focus on green building as a natural way to set homes—regardless of price tag—apart from the pack and draw attention.

"It's actually becoming more important in this downturn," he says. "While the market's going so much south, it feels like green building—for a niche—is in higher demand than the rest of the traditionally built market."

This article originally apeared on Custom Home Online.