By Kelly Millin and Jamie Nash
EcoVillage at Ithaca has begun the initial construction on its final sustainable community, using airtight enclosure technology.
TREE, Third Residential EcoVillage Experience, like FRoG, First Residents Group, and SoNG, Second Residents Group, will feature solar technology, as well as a more cutting-edge design called Passive House.
This green-building technology, originally from Germany, uses passive solar and airtight enclosures that regulate the temperature inside the house without wasting energy.
Workers installed sewer and water systems for TREE and will begin building in early October, said Liz Walker, co-founder of EcoVillage.
“We are hoping to close in between six and 10 units and have them framed with roofs and windows by winter,” Walker said.
TREE’s design will encourage residents to socialize with neighbors to foster a sustainable and rewarding living environment. It will have 40 homes and a multi-story Common House.
The Passive House design saves approximately 90 percent of energy used on heating and cooling, said Ken Levenson, president of New York Passive House. While it costs more to build a Passive House, the energy savings alone make it more affordable in the long run.
“One can typically expect about an eight-year simple payback, but really it is paying for itself from day one,” Levenson said. “You get a more resilient, healthy, comfortable, and sustainable building that is affordable.”
The local demand for energy-efficient houses appears to be growing, said Craig Modisher of Ironwood Builders.
“There are a lot of people that are moving toward Passive House-type techniques to build low-energy homes,” he said, “and there will be more and more as energy costs go up.”
Although there are currently no certified Passive Houses in Ithaca, EcoVillage’s TREE neighborhood plans to change that, Walker said.
“We’re going to add to that substantially,” Walker said. “We’re expecting about 25 of our homes to be Passive House certified.”
EcoVillage resident Thaddeus Bates said he and the communities are excited for the addition of TREE because it demonstrates that sustainable living is succeeding.
“I think it’s really just a sign that what’s going on here is working,” Bates said. “There’s enough interest, and people are willing to invest the time and energy to keep it going and make it happen.”
Walker is already planning EcoVillage’s next venture. Through her non-profit organization, EcoVillage at Ithaca-Center for Sustainability Education, she hopes to build a state of the art education center that reflects the sustainable goals of the three communities.
It is important to reduce pollution from buildings, since buildings in the United States are responsible for 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, Walker said. Society must continue learning about saving energy and retrain itself to use sustainable techniques, she added
“This is a place that has a lot of lessons we can learn from, whether it’s green building or organic farming or how to work in a community setting,” Walker said of EcoVillage. “We want people to feel empowered and excited about the innovated environmental, social and economic changes for sustainability.”