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Thistle Creek plan to include some energy efficient homes

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Taking an opportunity to build a home that uses less energy than the European standardbearer of energy efficiency, Roy Eastman purchased the last 10 lots of the Thistle Creek development off of King Street last month. He and Thistle Creek developer Jonathan Brown plan to start the first home this fall, as a kind of experiment, Eastman said. He will build as many as it takes to reach his goal for energy efficiency. And if it works, he said, he may build more for others if they are interested.

“I want to show to myself that it can be done without spending that much more money,” Eastman said of his hope to design a home that uses 90 percent less energy than a conventional American home.

As of July 15, Thistle Creek, formerly owned by Brown and real estate partner Ron Stickelman, is now owned solely by Brown, who is changing the name of his corporation to Jonathan Brown Inc. Of the 22 lots in the planned unit development, six were sold with single family dwellings to Home, Inc., two were sold with homes to individual buyers, and four more lots currently have purchase contracts pending, Brown said. His obligation as the developer is to finish blacktopping and sidewalk installation and, he said, to see that the building contractors complete their jobs to the homeowners’ satisfaction.

Eastman is the owner of the 10 lots, which continue to be listed for sale with local Re/Max realtors Chris and Rick Kristensen. Eastman and Brown plan to build together on Eastman’s lots, some of which are potentially for sale now, as Eastman doesn’t anticipate needing to build 10 homes to get his experiment right, he said.

Eastman said he felt uncomfortable giving exact specification for his energy goals, house design or cost estimate because he won’t be convinced it will work until he builds it and then tests it with rigorous methods. But the plan for his first home is to attempt a small passive structure that uses strategically placed windows and highly insulated walls and ceilings to heat the house with solar gain and cool it with shade and air circulation. He hopes to use affordable materials, such as cement board siding and cellulose, to help achieve an insulation, or R value, of 60 if necessary, he said.

Though he doesn’t plan to live in the homes himself, Eastman wants to either rent or sell them to occupants who are actively committed to maintaining their energy efficiency, he said. The ideal occupants would tolerate a variation between around 65 and 75 degrees from winter to summer and would do things to reduce energy use, such as adjust the window shades regularly to increase or decrease the level of heat coming through them at different times of the year.

According to Brown, the European standard for a 1,000-square-foot passive house uses no more than a total of 120 kilowatt-hours per square meter of energy a year, which, at least until recently, would cost about $1,200 per year to operate. If he and Eastman can build homes that perform as well or better using materials that are modestly priced, they will have succeeded, he said.

Of course the builders will conduct a rigorous testing regimen to gauge the home’s performance for at least a year before they sell them, Brown said.

Eastman is currently employing some of his energy efficiency ideas to renovate the Electroshield facility on High Street where his company produces building connectors. He has been aware of peak oil issues since his high school days in Yellow Springs in the 1970s, he said. He and Brown built Eastman’s house in the Vale in 1995 with triple paned windows, fluorescent light fixtures, and walls with an R-value of 30, which at that time of cheap fuel seemed to many to be unnecessary, Eastman said. But now that energy costs are rising steeply, even those standards no longer seem unreasonable.

“We need to work to meet the Kyoto Protocol because if we don’t, we’re going to miss out on all this technology,” he said. “And then we’re going to have to buy it all from the Europeans.”

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