Over the past year, ecovillagers moved into 25 completed townhouse-style homes in TREE, the long-anticipated and award-winning third neighborhood at EcoVillage at Ithaca, the largest, and perhaps most well-known ecovillage in North America. In November, 2014 TREE was awarded a coveted Zero-Energy Ready Home certification by the US Department of Energy (DOE). Diana Leafe Christian, GEN-NA – Eastern US, reports.
EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI) is located on 175 acres two and a half miles from downtown Ithaca in New York State. The TREE neighborhood, “Third Residential EcoVillage Experience,” with foot-thick, double-stud walls and roof sites designed for installation of solar hot water and photovoltaic panels, is the most energy-efficient neighborhood yet at EVI. According to EVI co-founder Liz Walker, who serves as Executive Director of the educational non-profit [email protected], TREE was designed to be “sustainable, accessible, and affordable” and to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent compared to typical American homes.
In addition to all TREE homes achieving the US Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum certification, seven TREE homes are official “Passive Houses” certified by the Passive House Institute of the U.S. (PHIUS). So far only 84 houses in the U.S. qualify for the extremely rigorous Passive House designation.
According to a 2014 study by Steven Winters Associates, a DOE research partner, TREE homes with photovoltaic panels already installed are 85 percent more efficient than a typical new home built to code in the US.
TREE was also one of three pilot projects chosen by the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Showcase Communities grant, which [email protected] received in partnership with the local Tompkins County Planning Department. Eleven TREE homes with data submitted to this program showed an average energy savings of 83 percent over typical households in Tompkins County, and homes with PV solar electric systems already installed had a 93 percent average savings. Two of these homes were at Net-Zero operation, with more expected to reach that level after a year of PV operation.
“I think perhaps the biggest thing we’re demonstrating with TREE,” Liz says, “is that you can actually achieve Net Zero energy using typical construction methods, but adding tremendous attention to air-sealing, insulation levels, and an energy-recovery ventilator — all for a construction cost that is very competitive. Imagine if most new homes or office buildings in the U.S. switched to these methods . . . over time it could substantially lower our national carbon footprint.”
Like Munksoegaard Ecovillage in Denmark, EVI is comprised of more than one cohousing neighborhood clustered together on rural farmland. EVI’s first two cohousing neighborhoods, FROG and SONG, each have their own large Common House and 30 townhouse-style units, and each is characterized by passive solar design and high energy efficiency: 2014 showed that SONG and FROG residents lowered their already low ecological footprint to 63% less than typical Americans. TREE also has its own Common House and 40 units, making EVI, soon to have 100 housing units, the largest ecovillage project in North America. (Munksoegaard also has 100 units, with five 20-unit cohousing neighborhoods.)
Construction of EVI’s third neighborhood began in September, 2012, and now 25 two-story townhouse-style units are built and construction is continuing on the Common House. This is on the ground floor of a four-story building which will include 15 smaller apartment units on the higher floors. Currently under construction, the building is scheduled for completion in Spring, 2015.
Over ninety percent of EVI’s land — with meadows, woods, wetlands, streams, and ponds — is preserved as open space for farming, wildlife habitat, and recreational trails. Fifty acres have been set aside as a permanent conservation easement, and two CSA farms onsite provide organic produce for 1,500 people in the greater Ithaca area.
Its innovative ecological systems and cohousing-neighborhood model —making EVi accessible to what we might call “regular” Americans as compared to committed ecological activists, has attracted national and international recognition so that EcoVillage at Ithaca is also one the most well-known ecovillages internationally.
* The US DOE’s Zero-Energy Ready Home certification means that homes in TREE meet all requirements of the DOE’s Energy STAR Certified Homes program, Version 3.0; the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EP) Indoor AirPLUS and WaterSense certification; and the rigorous insulation requirements of the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code.