Brad Pitt wants to make energy bills go away, and he doesn’t think that’s an outlandish pipe dream. In the second part of an exclusive one-on-one interview with TODAY’s Ann Curry, he showed how the new houses he’s helping to build in New Orleans will make a giant stride toward that goal.
“The idea that we pay utility bills is absolutely unnecessary,” he said as he led a tour of what will be an affordable house in the city’s devastated Ninth Ward. “I mean, there's the sun. Feel the breeze that's been created here. And we got water right out there,” he said, gesturing out an opening in the wall that will be a window.
“Any one of these can be harnessed,” he continued. “And we can integrate ourselves into that ecosystem, and not only power our houses, but actually produce energy for other parts of the city.”
The actor and activist sponsored a design competition for affordable apartments and houses along with Global Green USA. With the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina arriving next week, work on 18 apartments and five homes is nearing completion. Global Green is constructing the homes, which will be sold to residents, with preference being given to former residents of the neighborhood.
The housing will not be totally independent of the energy grid. “The family that will live here will save 75 percent on their energy bill,” he told Curry.
It starts with a roof positioned for maximum exposure to the sun to feed solar panels. All lighting will be energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. Appliances are Energy Star rated for efficiency. The water heater has no holding tank to keep hot, instead providing instant hot water as it is needed: “You are not heating massive amounts of water for 24 hours a day,” he said.
On Wednesday, Pitt, dressed in T-shirt, work pants and a tweed, snap-brim hat, had talked about how the devastation visited on the Big Easy was not nature’s doing.
“Katrina was a man-made disaster,” he said then. “The misconception is that it was nature. But this is man-made — decades and decades of erroneous engineering moves and really, really bad, bad irresponsible moves that I believe government has a responsibility to make right.”
Pitt and his girlfriend, Angelina Jolie, have adopted New Orleans. In January, they bought an early-19th-century mansion in the French Quarter. Not long afterward, Pitt teamed with Global Green USA to sponsor a competition to design environmentally friendly and energy-efficient housing for the Ninth Ward.
“I care very much for the area,” he said.
A small, first step
The house he showed off is his way of starting to put things right. The homes he and Global Green are building are made with studwork and sheathing that are impregnated with an environmentally friendly blue compound that makes them resistant to termites and mold. Insulation is soy-based. Paints will be nontoxic.
“It is amazing,” he said. “Something we have to be more aware of is the chemicals that are in the products that we are surrounded by.”
There is a terrace on the second floor that will be planted with grass — an excellent insulator. Rainwater will be captured and filtered and delivered to a cistern to be used to flush toilets and to water the landscaping. That, he said, should cut the homeowner’s water bill in half.
It’s all part of his vision.
“The utility bill is useless,” he repeated. “It is unnecessary."