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Austin’s first Net Zero Energy subdivision featured on DIY Channel

Friday, September 3, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

Last night, one of the DIY Channel’s newest shows, This New House, profiled Solutions Oriented Living, the first Net Zero energy subdivision in Austin. To celebrate, Council Member Sheryl Cole, residents, various city officials, and the builder gathered in the subdivision’s Community Green Space for an outdoor screening of the episode.


The 5 1/2-acre SOL subdivision, located on Perry Road in East Austin, is a collection of single-family homes designed by KRDB of Austin in partnership with contractor Beck-Reit and Sons. The houses are all 100 percent electric and capable of achieving Net Zero energy – meaning they can produce as much or more energy as they consume.


KRDB Designer Chris Krager told In Fact Daily that when his firm began looking for land for the SOL development four years ago, they saw an opportunity to create homes that were both environmentally and socially sustainable. “When we bought this tract, we figured we might as well put together all of our interests as a design firm into one project,” he said. “We wanted to create a model of sustainability that was a more holistic model. It wasn’t just about sustainability but also the economics and social components of sustainability, about affordable housing.”


KRDB did this by partnering with the nonprofit Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation to put together a proposal to the Austin Housing Finance Corporation for subsidy funds. In 2008 City Council approved $1.47 million through the AHFC to finance 16 affordable rental and ownership properties in the subdivision.


According to Krager, eight of the homes in the SOL subdivision will be held by GNDC in perpetuity for affordable rental. “Not everyone can afford to own a house,” he said, “so you need to have rental housing so that people who make 30, 40, 50 percent of median family income can afford to live here.”


Currently all eight rental properties are spoken for and six of the eight affordable ownership properties have been purchased. The subdivision also features 24 market-rate homes for purchase.


KRDB is able to achieve Net Zero status by first plugging all the components of a house – from the building envelope to the windows to the roofing to the heating and cooling to the appliances – into a computer energy model that determines if the house is as efficient as possible in terms of energy use. After that, Krager said, they size the solar arrays, or panels, to fit the unit and get it to Net Zero energy.


The homes, Krager said, are “grid-tied,” meaning they use the City of Austin electrical grid only when they’re not producing as much energy as they need, thereby keeping usage and costs down. Council Member Sheryl Cole sees this combination of environmental sustainability and affordability as an important step toward creating a more environmentally conscious eastside.


Before declaring September 2 “SOL Day” in a brief speech before last night’s screening, Cole said, “Ever since I have been in Austin, which is 25 years, there’s always been somewhat of a tension between East Austin and our environmental goals and the resources we put toward those goals … So when I come to an event like this, it really makes my heart glad, not only because of the energy efficiency and the huge steps we’re taking toward climate protection, but it means so much more than that. It means a coming together of our entire city to move us forward in the direction we need to go.


“This subdivision will be a catalyst for many more throughout the city, and it started in East Austin.”


Before the projector started rolling, Krager pointed out a house just across the courtyard from where he was standing. This was the home of the first woman to move into the SOL subdivision, he said, back in December of last year.


Her first month’s electricity bill: $10.

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