Green Building/Remodeling

Published on August 9th, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer


A McMansion Builder Tries Zero Energy Building

Like many a true business breakthrough, Prairie Ridge Homes, a new subdivision of net zero energy homes, grew out of disaster. The traditional builder, Phil Reagan of saw a sharp drop-off in buyers of his traditional McMansion-model subdivisions after the worst recession since the depression.

Having no experience in anything other than “Acquire land. Construct houses. Find buyers. Turn a profit. Repeat”, Phil and his brother Jim Regan had to find some different edge to create a reason to buy these homes. He had already bought the land. What to do? Phil chose to make his next subdivision of McMansions green.

Image: Dex El OneMcMansion

A builder of traditional homes goes net zero energy

So recently his company broke ground on a community of 132 net-zero energy homes in New Lenox, Illinois, that can produce as much energy as a typical family consumes. The first models will be open in November.

While zero energy apartment complexes have been built in other states, and zero energy subdivisions have been built in other states, (both Swedish-style, in Massachusetts, and traditional-McMansion style in California), his will be the first in the Midwest.

If the builder finds that this decision turns out to have been the wise move, he might like to visit Sonoma Mountain Village in Northern California, one of just five OnePlanet communities in the world; now breaking ground. This is an entire self contained zero energy town being recycled out of an abandoned office park, complete with its own district heating system and 100% clean energy supply.

But Regan has made a well-timed decision. Illinois is one of the states now stuck with ever more expensive and dirty energy from one of the last coal plants to be built, Peabody’s Prairie State Energy Campus, which has doubled in price since the coal plant was approved by local municipalities. Homeowners in his subdivision would have no bills for energy, in a state where their neighbors costs will be rising.

Geothermal ground heat exchange forms the basis of 80% of the energy use reductions. Tight engineering of the shell helps. Super efficient Energy Star appliances further reduce energy use. Solar panels on the roof or wind turbines nearby will take care of what’s left. Models open in November.

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