EcoVillage, a sustainable living community located two miles outside of downtown Ithaca, has begun initial construction on its final neighborhood, using state-of-the-art airtight enclosure technology.
The existing communities, FRoG, First Residents Group, and SoNG, Second Neighborhood Group, run on energy obtained from solar panels and are all EnergyStar certified. The new TREE community, or Third Residential EcoVillage Experience, will feature the same 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. Passive Houses are common in Europe, but have not yet gained a prominent presence in the U.S.
Passive House design saves about 90 percent of energy used on heating and cooling, Ken Levenson, president of New York Passive House, said. 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.”
Workers have installed sewer and water systems for TREE and will begin building in early October, Liz Walker, co-founder of EcoVillage, said.
“We are hoping to close in between six and 10 units and have them framed with roofs and windows by winter,” Walker said.
TREE is designed to encourage residents to socialize with neighbors and to foster a sustainable and rewarding living environment. It will have 40 homes and a multi-story Common House.
The local demand for energy-efficient housing appears to be growing, Craig Modisher of Ironwood Builders, said.
“There are a lot of people that are moving toward Passive House-type techniques to build low-energy homes,” Modisher said. “And there will be more and more as energy costs go up.”
Though 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.”
Karryn Olson-Ramanujan, a lecturer of environmental studies and sciences at Ithaca College and a resident of EcoVillage’s first neighborhood, FRoG, said she looks forward to the new technology being implemented into TREE. She said it is important that each new community builds upon the successes of the older ones.
“Each time a new neighborhood is built, the residents and designers try to explore and utilize the best technology they can,” Olson-Ramanujan said. “Living in the first neighborhood, I was able to see the second neighborhood taking sustainability to a whole new level.”
EcoVillage resident Thaddeus Bates said he and the community members are excited for the addition of TREE because it demonstrates that sustainable living is succeeding.
“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, Walker said, because buildings in the U.S. are responsible for 40 percent of greenhouse gas emission. 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.
This article was originally produced in Multimedia Journalism class.