When Jim Regan, president of Energy Smart Builders, first began developing his subdivision in New Lenox, Ill., the plans called for a fairly traditional community. Fast forward four years and Regan’s path has shifted dramatically in response to the economy and to consumers’ growing desire for homes that will save them energy costs for years to come.
In style, the homes in Prairie Ridge Estates, situated about 40 miles outside of Chicago and a few miles from trains to downtown, will look similar to the houses in the community across the street. But behind the walls, on the roofs, and in the backyards are elements that set the homes apart: ultra-tight construction techniques complemented by solar and wind energy systems that are expected to provide the full power load for each home.
“We realized that a normal subdivision is not going to make it, and we have to do something completely different,” says Regan. The developer met with BASF at the International Builders’ Show, and the manufacturer explained how the technology to build net-zero is available and attainable.
Regan and his team spent time investigating all aspects of how a house is built and what installation techniques and products could be adjusted to meet zero-energy goals. BASF, along with other vendors, worked with them throughout the process to provide advice, training, and, in some cases, volume pricing.
Each house will start with a super-efficient envelope. The BASF-designed ICF system features Neopor insulation board and concrete specially formulated to provide greater thermal conductivity; the concrete reaches from the frost line to the roof line and acts as a thermal mass to reduce heating and cooling needs. The R-58 wall system also provides soundproofing.
The roofs will be stick built and insulated with spray foam.
Regan says this structural system, in combination with geothermal heating and cooling, energy-efficient appliances, windows, and lighting, should reduce the homes’ energy consumption by 80% versus traditional models.
Once these calculations were determined, Regan says the company then specified solar panels and/or wind turbines to provide for that consumption. Panels are only located on the rear of homes, so they are installed only on those houses with south-facing roofs. Residential wind turbines will be installed in the backyards of the remaining units. The houses remain grid connected for times of low solar or wind generation, but the company expects an annualized usage of net zero.
At minimum, the homes are expected to be certified to LEED-Gold; upgrades, including an underground rainwater cistern, are available to reach LEED-Platinum if the buyer chooses.
Exact pricing is unavailable at this time, but Regan says they will be competitive with homes in nearby subdivisions after taking into account federal tax credits for solar and geothermal; in addition, Bank of America has agreed to offer a 0.25% mortgage discount for LEED-Gold homes in the community and 0.50% for Platinum.
“There shouldn’t be another house built in the country that’s not energy efficient,” Regan says. “Economically this is the smartest thing to do, not because you want to be green and help the earth—those are great goals, but that’s not going to be strong enough to drive change in this country. It has to be economically viable.”
Six lots in Prairie Ridge have sold so far with little marketing and no completed model. Regan expects to have the model open in time for Greenbuild in November and plans to break ground on sold homes by next spring.
For more information, visit the development’s website.
Katy Tomasulo is Deputy Editor for EcoHome.