A look at the first net-zero communities in the U.S.
It was an idealistic vision of the future that began as speculation: Could an entire community offset its energy use through renewable resources available in its built environment? Was that sustainability possible, and if so, what degree of planning and organization was necessary to achieve it?
Research and enterprise would yield answers to these questions. Today, the United States is home to several zero-energy communities, from Kaupuni Village in Hawaii to Living Zenith in Salt Lake City. No longer speculation, the environmental harmony that was once a vision is now fully realized by several successful initiatives.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at a few of the first net-zero communities in the country, detailing different aspects of their development. Though these communities are still new, an increased interest in green building practices represents a critical turning point.
Kaupuni Village on Oahu, Hawaii
Established as Hawaii’s first net-zero affordable housing community, Kaupuni Village is a reflection of deep respect for beautiful land. The natural beauty of the surrounding area serves as a fitting complement to the community’s aim, which is to break from the state’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Hawaii is the most oil-dependent state in the country, using imported fossil fuels to meet more than 95 percent of its energy demands. Naturally, community planners want to transition from nonrenewable resources toward a more eco-conscious alternative, paving the way for Kaupuni Village.
In the Waianae Valley, 19 homes and a community resource center comprise this small settlement. Through the implementation of recycled building materials, high-efficiency appliances, aquaponics, solar panels, and other additions, the community has succeeded in its goal of improved sustainability.
The village was developed by the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust with support from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and design by G70. Kaupuni Village offers subsidies for homeowners so Native Hawaiians can reside in the ultra-modern yet historically rooted community.
Red Fox Crossing in New Berlin, Wis.
The 34 homes in Red Fox Crossing, a small residential community in Wisconsin, qualify for net-zero status. Each property includes a 6- to 8-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) solar array that replaces the need for conventional energy, offsetting projected electrical consumption for maximum sustainability. Red Fox Crossing was developed as the first net-zero community in the state.
Though solar power technology is an essential element of Red Fox Crossing, there are other important details to note. With certification from programs such as Energy Star V3, WaterSense, and IndoorAir Plus, this Wisconsin community meets high standards of efficiency across the board.
These high standards are critical to the businesses that led the development of this sustainable community, Neumann Developments, Inc. and Tim O’Brien Homes, Inc. Green initiatives such as these take advantage of the benefits of both social responsibility and high returns on investment for builders and buyers alike. Instead of focusing on individual homes, Red Fox Crossing takes a more holistic approach toward energy efficiency. It’ll allow for change on a far more significant scale.
Living Zenith in Salt Lake City, Utah
Mitchell Spence, the developer of Living Zenith, created the community to combat Utah’s air pollution. His inspiration came from his worldwide travels, witnessing the negative health and environmental impacts of pollution in Southeast Asia.
Since buildings and homes contribute up to 39 percent of Utah’s air pollution, Spence adapted his practices to reduce emissions in his recent project. As Utah’s first net-zero community, Living Zenith manages these emissions through foam under the footage and foundation of the homes. The modifications don’t end there.
In coordination with Wheeler Power Systems, Spence integrated PV systems to power the community. This infrastructure channels surplus solar power to the local grid and other storage locations, allowing residents clean energy even in cloudy weather. As these communities show, the sun is a valuable resource.
De Young EnVision Community in Clovis, Calif.
California’s Central Valley comes with a unique set of challenges. The high temperatures common in the area necessitate a tight building envelope, keeping conditions comfortable for a homeowner. They might have to adjust their thermostat to compensate for leaks that allow cool air to escape.
Maintaining a tight envelope is essential to net-zero status, and developers have addressed the issue with strategic use of insulation. Instead of insulating the ceiling, De Young Properties insulates the roofing of their structures to extend the thermal boundary and buffer ductwork. But the company has larger designs in mind.
The De Young EnVision community is contributing to California’s climate goal to cut greenhouse gases from its economy. Through reducing the electrical load on homes and capitalizing on Central Valley’s sunny climate with solar power, De Young Properties’ 36-unit project serves as an example for future endeavors.
More Than a Growing Trend
Sustainability is necessary to the health of the planet. Dependence on nonrenewable resources has affected the climate in irreversible ways, and a continued reliance on fossil fuels may prove disastrous. With the emergence of net-zero communities, however, there’s potential for transformation.
In Kaupuni Village, Red Fox Crossing, Living Zenith, and the De Young EnVision Community, that transformation is evident. Real estate developers and government initiatives alike highlight the growth that green building has seen in our economy, and will hopefully be the first of many net-zero communities in the U.S.
Written by: Holly Welles
Holly Welles is a real estate writer who covers the latest market trends in everything from residential to commercial spaces. She is the editor behind her own blog, The Estate Update, and curates more advice on Twitter.