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Contractor hopes going green sells new subdivision

By Seth Leonard
sleonard@salisburypost.com
Despite the abysmal housing market, one Salisbury contractor is forging ahead with his vision for a new kind of subdivision.
And in Joe Mathis’ vision, things are green.
Mathis, 48, specializes in custom home building. He’s built subdivisions and installed roads across the state since becoming a contractor in 1987.
He was educated in traditional techniques at Appalachian State University. But for the type of work he’s doing now, Mathis has had to learn about energy-efficient methods on the job.
“Some of this stuff I’m still learning about, too,” he said.
His newest project is a subdivision off Morlan Park Road in Salisbury. Although the project appears to be in the beginning stages, it’s actually been in the works for nearly a decade.
“This is something that’s been in my pocket for a long time,” Mathis said. “I’m happy to have the opportunity to do it.”
But he hasn’t simply kept the job on the back burner. It’s taken nearly this long for city officials to approve various parts of the plan.
One reason is that Mathis is using recycled concrete to build the road and cul-de-sacs for the new neighborhood. These recycled materials come from things like old sidewalks, broken curbs and demolished buildings. He says that it doesn’t make sense to throw away concrete, which is essentially just rock.
“There’s probably thousands of piles of discarded concrete across the state,” he said. “Preserving virgin material is good, especially when recycled materials are available. Sometimes there is steel in the concrete, so if they can retrieve it, there’s another way to reuse something.”
Mathis is working with a local company, Pave South, that promotes recycled concrete as a way to save money. Pave South Foreman and Salisbury resident Eric Bryant explained the advantages extend beyond financial savings.
“I’d almost rather use crushed concrete,” he said. “It resets itself.”
Setting a gravel road or roadbed requires water to be delivered by truck to soak the material and steamrolling equipment to pack it down.
Due to the porous nature of the crushed rock, water more easily penetrates and the stones can quickly settle, meaning fewer man hours and dollars spent on something that is only one facet of the building process.
The construction team agreed that using this kind of stone can save up to 20 percent on concrete costs, which is substantial considering they could use dozens of truckloads for the project. Each load runs about $400.
Recycled material can be used as aggregate for new concrete in building construction. These types of concrete can typically meet or exceed the specifications of regulators.
The 21 homes planned for the subdivision won’t use much of that though, because Mathis will construct custom stick-built houses there. One of the reasons he expects the homes to sell is their sensible size. The two-story houses will average 1,400 square feet, modest accommodations compared to the “McMansions” that have sprouted up in the past decade. The homes will range in cost from more than $130,000 to less than $160,000.
At least some of that cost will be defrayed by ecological innovations. Mathis intends to build each home with passive solar equipment to cheaply heat water and reduce the need to crank up the heat in colder months. Each home will have the ability to expand on the initial system with new solar panels for even more free juice.
An emphasis on the houses having a minimal ecological footprint will also be met by rainwater retention systems. These cisterns absorb precipitation and store it, sometimes for gray-water use such as showers and wash water. Some systems allow water to be used for any purpose.
Super-insulated windows garner a tax-credit of about $1,500 whether they are part of the original plan or added at a later date, so they will be installed.
A special insulated crawlspace will be featured as well. This means a portion of the home will be a tightly sealed corridor beneath the house which helps regulate the temperature inside during any season. This can contribute to radiant heating and eliminates the need for extensive insulation at the base of the home, allowing that money to be invested in roofing insulation, something Mathis says is much more effective.
Along with energy-saving appliances, the contractor expects people’s utility bills to come in well below the $100-plus that most families pay each month. Power companies offer attractive incentives, like lower energy rates, for homes that pass their stipulations for efficiency.
Mathis expects the homes to sell due to the price and the new technologies.
“People can spend a little extra money in certain areas and save in the long run,” he said. “Usually, when I’ve built houses, generally speaking, people have made money when they move in. I just hope this economy picks up and moves forward. I’ve gotta move some houses.”
Mathis Construction has been active in Rowan County for years, but this is its first project within the city limits. The company constructed Pine Haven Drive, a road in Granite Quarry, and places like Mountain View Estates on Sunrise Ridge Road.

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