First Net-Zero Affordable Community! But…

affordable sustainable community

There’s an exciting announcement out this week — the “first net-zero affordable community” is supposed to break ground on September 14th in Jerseyville, IL.

It looks like a wonderful project in that 32 single-family homes renting for only $590 per month will be powered by solar panels, wind turbines and other clean technology, keeping utility bills at $0.

Furthermore, the homes are expected to be LEED Platinum certified once they are completed. No small feat there.

“Cutting edge green renewable technology has been a cost-prohibitive, inner-city luxury that few could afford. Until today,” said Bill Luchini, President of Capstone Development Group, the company developing the community. “This development will be rented to rural families that earn less than $41,000 per year. And they won’t have a gas bill. They won’t have a heating bill. When they get their electric bill, it is more likely to be credit instead of a cost. Green technology will truly make a more affordable and more sustainable life for everyone in the community.”

Homes to be Affordable in the Long-Term

And while one problem with affordable green-friendly communities is often that the prices may start small but then skyrocket within a certain number of years (due to the great features of the community), that is unlikely to happen here. “Financing from the Illinois Housing Development Authority ensures that the development will remain affordable for working families the long-term,” LEED for homes Illinois reports.

Details on the Green Homes

Before I get into the one issue I have with the project, here are a few more highlights on the details of the homes:

The 32 single-family homes will each have three bedrooms, two full bathrooms and an attached two-car garage. A separate building will house a clubhouse/resource center, community room with kitchenette and bathroom, conference room, computer lab, property manager’s office and a storage room. The site will be landscaped with native plants to reduce water usage and will include a state-of-the-art playground….

Building Highlights

The homes will be approximately 1,230 square feet, and will feature central air conditioning, heat, hot water and other appliances that all run on electric energy, powered by roof-mounted solar panels on all homes, as well as wind turbines throughout the subdivision. Even the streetlights will be powered by wind and solar.

Modern building techniques will reduce construction waste to nearly zero. The design will incorporate highly energy efficient materials, long-term durability and maintenance, and an interior clean air environment.

* Sustainable landscape practices include efficient irrigation systems
* Water efficient faucets, showerheads and WaterSense toilets
* Bathroom and kitchen exhaust vented to the outdoors removing sources of pollutants
* Energy-efficient design, ENERGY STAR appliances, exceeding ENERGY STAR for New Homes requirements
* Wall insulation at R-21 and R-49 insulation in the attic
* Well sealed and air-tight construction reducing drafts
* Low VOC paints
* Energy efficient florescent light fixtures
* Argon gas U35-rated low-e windows
* Extensive use of recycled materials

One Thing Missing from this Super-Sustainable Community

Not taking away from the success of making the homes affordable and green, the community is definitely lacking in one way — it seems to have a heavy automobile focus, despite auto transportation being a leading cause of global warming and other pollution as well as a very expensive form of transportation.

With 2-car garages for every home, (a clear automobile focus in the image above), and no discussion of bicycle paths or transit links in the announcements, it looks like the developers aren’t addressing what is considered to be the 1st, 2nd or 3rd biggest cause of environmental problems.

This project is both a very inspiring project and a big disappointment to me. I would think that any project doing so well on home affordability and clean energy would also address transportation, a little bit at least.

Photo Credit: Capstone Development Group

  • http://Web Bryan Z

    Jerseyville is by no means a walkable community — it is rural. But this new subdivision will be located less than two miles from every possible amenity — WalMart, pharmacy, downtown, etc. etc. The location was selected with these issues in mind to the fullest extent possible in a rural community.

    • Zachary Shahan

      Good deal. Thank you for the extra info on that!

      Rural communities need green building, too.

  • James Holtzman

    How about some architecture to go along with all the green gadgets? I love the zero energy impact but does that mean that we must have colonial cracker box design with the main part of the facade being a 2- car garage door? Seems like there is plenty of room in southern Illinois to at least allow for side entry garages.

  • Jeannette

    This is a start, but like Zachary wrote, what about the transportation issue?… and don’t forget it’s not really green unless these folks are eating “green” too. If they drive to the store and grab a honkin piece of steak, that kinda defeats the whole “don’t make a carbon footprint” thing. People need to be taught how to live “green” you can’t just put them into a cheap house and expect that their lifestyle will instantly change.

    But glad someone is making an effort overall :)

    • http://Web Donna

      There seem to be a lot of negative assumptions about the lifestyles and politics of the people who will be moving into these houses. I, personally, have know several families who would certainly qualify & who are already living environmentally conscious lives.

      Think about it–to what extent are these comments a matter of class bias?

      • Zachary Shahan

        definitely, nice point, Donna

        i fully agree

  • http://Web Greg

    Please folks, let’s not pre-judge the future occupants and their potential driving and eating habits. I believe the goal of the project is to provide affordable housing, built to LEED Platinum standards. And by all means, NOT CHEAP. Whether they/we eat a big hunkin’ steak in their current home or drive an Escalade is/should not be a litmus test for occupancy. (please note that the word ‘they’ is divisive and ‘we’ inclusive). Living in a green home may/can change how one looks at their own carbon footprint and begin the process of instituting incremental changes in one’s life. Unfortunately, the two-car garages are built based on pragmatic realities based on the rural location, family schedules and western culture’s desire to accumulate crap.
    I’ll close by saying that I have no idea if Mother Earth is going to allow us the time to make ‘incremental changes’. I’m doing what I can do to help her get well. This project, albeit small, helps as well.
    Now……. if they could only purchase 32 Prius’, allow for a half acre organic garden and a pasture for grass fed cattle….. that would be ideal. And, actually attainable.
    All the best

  • http://Web Beth

    I don’t think anyone in this community cares about the fact that it is saving the environment rather then it is saving them a utility bill!

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  • Rom

    This is a fantastic accomplishment for that cost. Here in America, often the people who care least about the environment care most about their bottom line. So if people only hear “bla bla bla cheaper bla bla” the developers have still succeeded in getting people into efficient homes.

    Personally, I think that a single family making $41k or less won’t be buying big, honkin steaks. I make slightly more than that and can’t afford to.

  • http://Web natalie

    I think that it is a great start. I’m not sure how eating a salad or a steak matters in the topic of green housing development. However, I think that there are a number of things that might have been done differently : for starters, make it 100% homeownership – not continuous rental. Then, add a bus stop to the front – tada!

    • http://Web Bryan Z

      The affordable housing financial resources (LIHTC in particular) require the properties are affordable rentals for 15 years. After 15 years, they will be sold to qualified low income families.

      Adding a bus stop is a great idea, but only if there was a bus line. Otherwise, it is a very long wait.

  • http://Web Doug

    Zack, if you are going to compliment, please do so, then you take it away. This is a wonderful step in all directions. Steps, Zack, steps.

    Just discovered the site today.