Innovative solutions for creating healthy, efficient, eco-friendly homes

Energy Efficient Communities Kapaa HI

One of the latest trends in homebuilding is the creation of entire neighborhoods or communities of green, energy-efficient homes in Kapaa. The premise behind these energy-efficient communities, which are springing up all over the country, is simple.

Blue Pacific Energy
(808) 280-5432
PO Box 790752
Paia, HI
Wind Turbines / Solar Panels

(808) 833-7777
Honolulu, HI
New Energy Partners
(808) 329-4360
74-5617 Pawai Pl Ste 201
Kailua Kona, HI
Kauai Island Utility Cooperative
(808) 246-8275
Lihue, HI

Energy Efficient Communities

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One of the latest trends in homebuilding is the creation of entire neighborhoods or communities of green, energy-efficient homes. The premise behind these energy-efficient communities, which are springing up all over the country, is simple: there's power in numbers - or rather, a greater opportunity to reduce energy consumption and improve resource management when dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of homes in a neighborhood incorporate eco-friendly building materials, renewable energy sources and energy-efficient lighting, appliances, and heating and cooling systems.

Many of these communities are so new that ground has barely been broken, or at most a few homes have been built. Depending on their location, they focus on different factors and use different approaches to conserve energy. But they all have a common goal - to create communities that are not only green and efficient but livable as well, often by encouraging walking rather than driving, and locating parks, common areas, shops and offices right in the neighborhoods.

To get a feel for the diversity of these innovative communities, we focused on four located in different regions of the country: Withers Preserve in South Carolina, Mountainside Village in Idaho, The Farm West of Krum in Texas and Avignon in California.

Withers Preserve

Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Myrtle Beach has long been known for its greens - golf greens, that is (the coastal city is home to nearly 100 golf courses) - but not so much for greenbuilding. That's about the change, however, with the construction of Withers Preserve, an energy-efficient community that has partnered with GE's new ecomagination Homebuilder Program.

In fact, Withers Preserve is the first contracted ecomagination community in the world. In signing on with GE, the developers promised to adhere to the standards set forth by the ecomagination initiative, says John Owens, product development manager for RWO Acquisitions, a real estate development company based in New York City.

"What we've done is recycled an Air Force base here," says Owens. RWO is converting a portion of the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base into a 900-acre, 3,000-home "neo-traditional," people-centered community with preserved wetlands, man-made lakes and beach/park access. The community also has shopping a center, The Market Common, which is within walking distance of every home. The homes range in price from $200,000 to more than $1 million.

In accordance with the Ecomagination guidelines, the single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums in Withers Preserve will draw energy from renewable sources, and will come equipped with heating and cooling systems designed to "sip" energy instead of "guzzle" it, says Owens. Energy-efficient appliances will be standard with every home. And the homes' windows and doors are installed tightly to decrease energy loss and drafts. The goal is to "save the homeowner $600 to $1,500 on annual utility bills versus an industry-standard average new home," according to GE.

Though not currently mandatory for the contract, solar power will play an integral role in increasing the neighborhood's energy efficiency. Installing Roof Integrated Tile Systems can save a homeowner up to 60 percent on monthly energy costs, GE notes. The builders have also designed each home to face south in order to capitalize on the benefits of passive solar.

South Carolina's weather conditions are not ideal for wind power, so that option was not explored. However, a storm-water collection system harvests rain and deposits it in the aforementioned man-made lakes. "We're also looking into recycling gray water for irrigation purposes," says Owens. (See sidebars for contact information on all properties mentioned in this article.)

Mountainside Village

Victor, Idaho

Nestled in southeastern Idaho in the shadow of the Teton mountain range and just across the state line from Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole, Wyo., is Mountainside Village, a new environmentally conscious community. Much like Withers Preserve in several respects, the community is designed to discourage the

The community consists of 213 lots and 240 units, not including accessory units of up to 800 square feet that homeowners have the option of renting out to lower living costs. The lots range in price from $45,000 to $142,000. Standard Cottage and Village Homes (five have been built so far) range in size from 900 to 1,700 square feet.

The village's main source of renewable energy is the sun. All homes will have protected solar access, meaning that the homes are oriented to prevent shading from adjacent neighbors, so homeowners will have the option of installing solar (photovoltaic) panels if they so choose. Also, each home faces south and is equipped with specially insulated windows that harvest the sun's energy. "A good passive solar design is the most cost-effective, but the site is perfect for active [solar energy] systems as well," says Thal.

To ensure the community is as energy efficient as possible, Mountainside Village is participating in the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED-H (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes) Green Building Rating System. The system measures the performance of homes using several criteria, such as sustainable site location, water efficiency, indoor air quality, and energy efficiency in heating and cooling systems. Each home also includes an Energy Star lighting package and will be Energy Star-certified.

In addition, the development harvests stormwater, particularly important in this region of the country, and the community promotes conservation and recycling by residents. There's another benefit as well: The surrounding mountains provide an excellent venue for downhill skiing and other winter sports, sure to make this community a big draw for lovers of the great outdoors.

The Farm West of Krum

Krum, Texas

Located 36 miles northwest of Dallas, The Farm West of Krum is a development of 20 homes that combines luxury living with energy efficiency as well as health and safety features. Among those safety features is a storm-safe/fire-safe room located in the master closet of every home. This is necessary because North Texas has the highest frequency of tornados of any area of the country, explain Dan Fairman and Casey Harrington, owners of Fairington Inc., the project's developer. "In our area, there are straight line winds in excess of 60 miles per hour, so we thought [safe rooms] were necessary," says Fairman.

All of the homes are being built with insulated concrete forms, or ICFs, which will ensure their strength and durability. In fact, notes Harrington, "The Texas Tech University Debris Testing Facility confirms that a 15-pound two-by-four shot from a cannon at 100 miles per hour left the concrete unscratched." Homes built with ICFs are also nine times more wind resistant, four times more fire resistant and two times more energy efficient than typical stick-built homes, according to the developer.

The homes, which sit on lots that are five acres minimum in size and are referred to as "luxury estates" by the developers, draw on several renewable energy sources. Each home will have its own 6-foot tall, roof-mounted wind turbine that will provide power to the home and excess energy to the grid. In addition, all 20 homes will have geothermal heating and cooling systems, which use a series of tubes called a ground loop to access the earth's natural thermal energy to keep the homes comfortable.

"It really helps offset the cost of electricity," says Harrington. "Homeowners in this development could see up to $120 of savings per month." Each home's geothermal energy system will work in tandem with a Trane CleanEffects HVAC system, which promises to remove 99.98 percent of allergens from the indoor air.

Further cementing the developers' commitment to efficiency and quality is their 10-year workmanship warranty, and all of the products in the homes have even longer coverage. "Without the right combination of products, you make it impossible to recoup costs," says Fairman. "We want to make sure that our clients - our neighbors - are happy with their homes for a long time."


Pleasanton, Calif.

Energy efficiency is going mainstream in Avignon, a neighborhood of 30 homes in Pleasanton, Calif., about 25 miles east of Oakland. The homes, built by Dallas-based Centex, range in size from 3,671 to 4,035 square feet, and each is designed to save energy and utilize green products.

In fact, Avignon adheres to standards set forth by Build It Green's "Green Point Rated" program, which mandates that homes be a minimum of 15 percent more efficient than Title 24 requirements. (Title 24 is a California code that establishes energy efficiency standards for new homes.)

In building the Avignon homes, Centex used sustainable lumber for framing and engineered lumber products made from recycled wood for subfloors and sheathing. "Not only is [engineered wood] a stronger product, but it also uses fewer resources [to create]," says Nathan Tuttle, representative for Centex Homes' Bay Area Division.

The builder also used CertainTeed's Optima blow-in fiberglass insulation, which, according to Tuttle, "cuts down on air infiltration" and is "not a food source for mold or insects," which ultimately improves the homes' indoor air quality. Optima provides R-values of R-13 in exterior walls and R-49 in ceilings.

Avignon's most notable energy-saving feature, however, is its use of solar power. A 3.5-kilowatt photovoltaic system made by PowerLight is installed on the roof of every home. "The PV panels are integrated into the roof tiles," says Tuttle. "There's a wire that runs from the roof to an inverter, which transmits the energy to the meter and then to the power grid. From standing on the street it's pretty hard to tell [that the system is installed]." The panels are designed to save homeowners up to 50 percent on energy costs.

The homes also feature Rinnai Tankless water heaters, which "heat water as you use it," saving energy, says Tuttle. Rinnai Tankless water heaters are designed to be up to 20 percent more efficient than traditional tank water heaters.

While Centex Homes doesn't have a defined strategy or corporate policy addressing greenbuilding and energy efficiency, Tuttle notes, it's clear that the Bay Area Division is paving the way for these growing trends in homebuilding. The communities of Avignon, Withers Preserve, Mountainside Village and The Farm West of Krum might be on the cutting edge today, but there's no doubt that they will be joined by a growing number of like-minded neighborhoods in the years to come.

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