Home technologies with national buzz that conserve water and electricity increasingly find way into Central Texas
Taking shape about three miles east of downtown is Sol Austin, a sustainable community of 40 modern homes being built with technologies that make them capable of achieving net-zero energy, which means they can produce as much energy as they use.
So far, 22 of the 24 finished homes are occupied. “It’s starting to really become a community,” says Blaine Vortman, sales manager at Sol Austin.
Homes in Sol are designed to use less energy, with new technologies such as spray-foam insulation and highly efficient low-E, double-pane windows that are oriented and shaded to reduce solar heat gain.
Many of the homes, which are being rated by the Austin Energy Green Building program, already are equipped with a solar array (a solar cells system), and one house is “fully net-zero,” he says. The homes without a solar array can add one in the future if the homeowner chooses. The cost to add a system will vary depending on what kind of rebates are available and what kind of system the homeowner wants.
Architect and developer Chris Krager of the Austin firm KRDB says energy efficiency is the most recognized benefit of building green, but what’s important at Sol “is not just that we’re a five-star green builder. Equally important is that it is a denser infill project close to Central Austin, near transit and schools, with smaller houses on smaller lots.”
And Krager is trying to build energy-efficient homes for middle-class buyers, with prices starting at about $198,000.
“All of that has got to be part of the message,” Krager says. “I’m kind of moving beyond (green) and thinking of sustainability in a more holistic way.”
Sustainable and affordable — those were two key words used again and again at the National Association of Home Builders’ 2011 International Builders’ Show held in Orlando in January. Despite the struggling national housing market, the green building movement is forging ahead, and evidence of the push for more sustainable homes and communities was everywhere at this year’s construction industry show, which featured exhibits of home products and demonstration homes, as well as sessions on topics such as constructing net-zero energy homes and solar housing.
“Wherever we looked, it was all about green,” says Lucy Katz of Austin-based Katz Builders, who says she was impressed with some of the innovative technologies.
The good news for recession-weary homebuyers is that builders — both custom and production — at this year’s conference were talking about constructing energy-efficient, sustainable homes that are smaller and more affordable. Manufacturers are looking for ways to reduce water use by producing conservation-oriented fixtures. And builders of this year’s showcase homes were focused not only on energy and water efficiency but also on durable alternative building systems, deconstruction, universal design and green remodeling.
Several demonstration homes and a variety of exhibits featured resource-efficient, eco-friendly materials and products that eventually will show up in homes across the country.
Among the exhibitors, Cooper Lighting displayed its line of Energy Star-qualified Halo LED recessed downlights, and Matrix Lighting introduced its affordable Viribright LED light bulbs.
Plug ‘N Save Energy Products showed off its PV Solar Shutter, an interior plantation shutter that has solar cells in the louvers to collect energy from the sun. The energy is then channeled into the home’s electrical system.
Austin builder Ray Tonjes, who attended the conference, says it was obvious that “manufacturers are gearing up for a new (green) market. And sustainability and green building were evident in all of the show homes and models.”
The KB Home GreenHouse
The production builder’s first net-zero energy home was open for tours during the show. The house, which was created with Martha Stewart and Builder magazine, is intended to produce more energy than it consumes during a year.
“With an established track record of building all Energy Star homes in our new communities, we took this opportunity to go above and beyond and built a net-zero energy home that incorporates new ideas and technologies, including a real-time energy monitoring system and a solar thermal water heater, that we believe will one day be standard in all new homes,” says Jeffrey Mezger, president and CEO of KB Home. To earn an Energy Star rating, homes must meet criteria for energy efficiency set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The ReVision House, Orlando
The 1,800-square-foot ReVision Orlando demonstration showhome spoke to the green trend of remodeling existing homes. Green Building magazine transformed a 1950s ranch house into a high-performance modern home with innovative products such as PGT Industries’ WinGuard aluminum-clad windows, which have impact-resistant glass, reduce outdoor noise, help provide security against intruders and filter 99 percent of UV light.
The NextGen “Flex Home” was designed, engineered and built in a factory, which reduces construction waste. The modular home features a Trane hybrid heating and cooling system that is capable of using either electricity or fossil fuel; this allows the system to optimize energy use by switching back and forth to whichever source is most efficient. The home was built with accessible and universal design features and has been donated to an injured veteran and his family.
The New American Home 2011
This 8,500-square-foot home was built on an infill lot near downtown Orlando. The two existing homes on the site were deconstructed rather than demolished so materials could be reused where possible.
The new two-story home features masonry block construction for exterior walls, spray-foam insulation, a gray-water recycling system, water-conserving fixtures and a rainwater harvesting system. Solar thermal collectors heat most of the home’s water, and a solar energy system powers a portion of its heating and air-conditioning systems. Overall, the home uses about 77 percent less energy for heating and about 83 percent less energy for cooling than a similar conventional house in the same climate zone.
The local market
Moderately priced single-family homes, condominiums and townhomes with green features are becoming easier to find in the Austin area.
Katz says affordable, energy-efficient, sustainable homes “are popping up all over the city, and there are Realtors that specialize in selling green and sustainable homes.”
One such real estate agent is Ken Altes , who started a website, EcoHomesAustin.com, about three years ago to create a “central information source” for green homes for sale in Austin and Central Texas.
He says the local green home market is growing.
“The materials are becoming more abundant and less expensive, the technology is becoming simple and more reliable, and the skills of the builders and tradespeople are getting better through practice,” he says. “The consumer is demanding a more efficient and environmentally responsible home, too.”
Here’s a sampling of properties on the market in Austin that have earned a star rating from the Austin Energy Green Building program:
• Two contemporary Arts and Crafts-style townhomes at 5308 Woodrow Ave. in North Central Austin are listed for $425,000 and $440,000 each. Each 2,100-square-foot home features bamboo floors, granite countertops, a loft and covered patio and features three bedrooms and 21/2 bathrooms. They both received a five-star rating. The listing agent is Kathleen Bucher of Keller Williams Realty .
• A remodeled 1961 home at 3202 S. Oak Drive is on the market for $339,000. It has 1,481 square feet with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The South Austin home, which received a five-star rating, has an open floor plan with stained concrete floors, a walk-in closet in the master suite and stainless steel appliances in the kitchen. Mark Moore of AvenueOne Properties has the listing.
• In the Mueller community, a two-story town house at 2201 Zach Scott St. carries a three-star rating. The 1,812-square-foot town house, which has two bedrooms, 21/2 bathrooms and a loft, sits on a corner lot. It is listed for $319,000 with Sheila Paynter at Wilson & Goldrick Realtors.
• A 1,767-square-foot condo at 3801 Mia Tia Circle, Unit A was built with high-performance structural insulated panels, which helped the Northwest Austin condo achieve a four-star rating. The two-bedroom, two-bath unit, built in 2001, is listed for $299,900 with Lori Galloway, AvenueOne Properties.
• A loftlike modern house at 4905A Woodrow Ave. has soaring ceilings, concrete and bamboo floors and stainless steel countertops. The 1,867-square-foot North Central Austin home offers two bedrooms and 21/2 bathrooms, plus a bonus space and a private courtyard. The price: $349,900. The listing agent for the three-star-rated project is Jeff Harris of True Austin Properties.
• About a mile from downtown is a modern 1,920-square-foot, two-story home built with high-performance structural insulated panels. The house, which earned a five-star rating, offers features such as moveable walls of glass, a tankless water heater, smart wiring and a rooftop deck. The three-bedroom, two-bath house at 2408 Bryan St. is for sale for $360,000 with listing agent Wendy Wilson of Keller Williams Realty.
• A modern condo at 1616-A Haskell St. has 12-foot ceilings, a rooftop deck and storefront windows. The 1,508-square-foot East Austin condo, which offers two bedrooms and three bathrooms, received a rating of four stars. It is on the market for $329,000. Blaine Vortman is the listing agent.
Read More from Carrie Alexander, Special to the Austin American-Statesman.
Tagged Austin Energy, Austin Energy Green Building, Central Texas, Energy Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Energy Savings, Green Building, High-Efficiency, Net-Zero Homes, Sol Austin, Solar Arrays, Solar Power, Sustainable Design, Sustainable Living, Texas Energy Efficiency, Water Conservation, Water savings