Green housing may help save the planet and cash in your wallet

By Colin Spence

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Green housing development may have the construction and real estate industries buzzing with abundant promise for a more eco-friendly, and profitable, future.

The new movement’s renewable energy technology allows homeowners to reduce or even possibly eliminate their energy bills, while at the same time preventing the earth from possible climatic and landscape crises.

“They use between seven to 10 times less energy,” said builder Bick Corsa of Florence, Mass., of new forms of environmentally-sound housing technology. “You can actually eliminate a heating system,” he said, referring to new home exteriors which harness the sun’s light for warmth. “[Such homes] always stay comfortable [at] around 70 degrees.”

According to the Global Carbon Project, a group of climate scientists who work to facilitate discourse in the international scientific community about climate awareness, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by 38 percent since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, and the present concentration is the highest it has been in at least the past two million years.

“We need to reduce our energy from fossil fuels in order to cut carbon dioxide emissions,” said Corsa, “just generate our own energy by using solar panels.”

At first glance, these new homes may seem more expensive because of the high cost of solar panels, windows and insulation. However, in the long run, homeowners may save more money by cutting out rising heating expenses.

“You’re going to pay five to 10 percent more than an average house,” Corsa said, “but in about 10 years, you’ll make your money back.”

Twenty-five miles north of here, in Greenfield, Mass., the Wisdom Way Solar Village has built numerous near zero net energy homes. Zero net energy homes, are, quite simply, buildings which produce nearly as much energy as they consume. At Wisdom Way, all buildings follow stringent regulations to achieve net zero energy. A natural gas water heater is used as a backup to the solar hot water system. The project has performed better than the project’s leaders anticipated, saving more on utilities than the homes were projected to.

“The subdivision has 20 homes in 10 duplexes,” said Cynthia Bleil, Outreach and Education Coordinator at Wisdom Way. “So far, 13 homes have been sold, and 11 of which have been designated for people with low income.”

The homes’ solar panels have also shown their efficiency in curbing electrical use, as the project’s buildings are using three times less electricity than the average residential home in Greenfield. At the same time, these homes are producing no greenhouse gases and other pollutants that plague the residential homes.

“Almost no one is paying a monthly electric bill,” said Anne Perkins, Wisdom Way’s director. “The extra sunlight in the summer helps them generate electricity to earn credit for the winter.”
A few of the houses are rented out to people with disabilities through Massachusetts’ Community Based Housing program. This means more than half the homes are occupied with people on low income.

“There are resale restrictions that will keep these homes affordable for a period of 30 years,” said Bleil.

Aside from better-known ways of preventing global warming, like curbing carbon dioxide emissions and energy reduction, many seem to forget the toxins found in building materials. Vinyl, especially, is extremely bad for the environment, and it is used in most homes for siding and flooring.

Another big concern deals with the burning of coal, which is a primary greenhouse gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal is the largest source of energy for electricity worldwide. The carbon dioxide emissions from coal are more than petroleum and twice that of natural gas.

“Burning coal is a complete disaster, there is no such thing as clean coal,” said Corsa.

Corsa said he believes some people and legislators are too set in their ways about where their energy comes from

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “This is the greatest opportunity to change the country around. We would produce so many new jobs and it’s so easy to build houses like this.”

Corsa predicted that, as prices on conventional energy sources like oil and coal rise, more people will turn to green housing techniques to help protect their savings, and the planet.

“The faster oil goes up, the faster you’ll see it in your backyard,” Corsa said, “but by the time we make a change the oceans will rise and it’ll be too late.”

Colin Spence can be reached at [email protected]