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Eco-Village of 18 Homes Pushes Limits of Efficiency

Posted by Green Builder Staff

Jan 30, 2015 11:01:00 AM

 The one- and two-story residences have small footprints and range from 1,000 to 1,900 square feet. All are net-zero energy, LEED Platinum and Energy Star-certified.

RIVER FALLS ECO-VILLAGE is a community of sustainable, affordable homes in River Falls, Wisconsin. Built on three acres donated by the City, the Eco-Village includes 18 single family residences, a community center and solar garden. The project is a collaborative effort between St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity, the City of River Falls, River Falls Municipal Utilities, St Croix Institute and a group of corporate partners. “This project has stretched us, both in type and magnitude,” says Jim Cooper, project manager for St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity. “We wanted to learn as we went along, so we could improve both the sustainability and affordability of the homes.”.

The high-performance building envelopes are constructed with SIPs and Fox Blocks ICFs.

“SIPs are good for energy performance, but they’re also a volunteer-friendly product,” says Cooper. Insulation values are two-and-a-half times higher than required by code. The homes feature metal roofs and low maintenance exteriors, including LP SmartSide siding and trim. Renewable energy systems, sprinkler systems, energy recovery ventilators and rooftop rainwater collection systems round out the sustainable features.

Several companies donated materials and components, and volunteers, including the future homeowners, gave hundreds of hours of labor. The completed homes are selling for $160,000 to $170,000, but Cooper says his organization’s strategy extends beyond the sale.+

“We are incurring more upfront cost in exchange for lower ongoing cost for the homeowners.” Low or non-existent utility bills, combined with low-maintenance, long-lasting systems and materials help ensure these homes remain affordable for the homeowners for decades to come.

  • Each home is equipped with Uponor fire sprinklers. Because River Falls is located in a region prone to high winds, the slab-on-grade homes also include FEMA-rated safe rooms, which double as bathrooms.

    The SIPs were sourced from Extreme Panels, a local company. R-values range from an average of R-60 for walls and between R-90 to R-100 for ceilings.

    The homes feature concrete slabs with radiant (hydronic) heating systems on the first floor. Uponor donated both the components and sweat equity.

  • Modest solar PV arrays from SolarWorld bring homes to net zero. Solar thermal systems by Veissmann heat domestic water and power the radiant floors; Fujitsu 12RLS2 mini-split heat pumps provide supplemental heat.

    A dropped ceiling hides a foot-wide channel that houses the sprinkler equipment and can lights. This reduces penetrations—and air leaks—into the attic.

    Zehnder ComfoAir 350 energy recover ventilators (ERVs) ensure a continuous supply of fresh air in these tight homes.

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