There’s a commonly held belief in the home construction world, that environmentally friendly and energy efficient homes are the province upper-level income buyers who are able to spend at least seven figures and add after-market green technology.
Disproving that belief – going so far as to call it a myth – was part of the mission of Doug Gilliland in creating the new Whisper Valley community just east of Austin, Texas. As president of the Taurus of Texas development firm, Gilliland has overseen the start of a new home community with net-zero energy footprints, on-site organic farming, and more than 700 acres of open space for recreation and green living.
And it’s all available at price points starting just over $200,000, with the most expensive models topping out in the low $400,000’s. It turns out building with environmentally friendly principles in mind from the beginning, living green doesn’t have to break the bank.
“Historically, investments in green tech are done by custom home purchasers, and people who have a lot of financial ability to pay for that on the front end individually,” he said. “Mainstream and first-time buyers have not had access to these features. Our concept was to reduce the cost of green investment by putting it all in up front, instead of doing it one house at a time after the fact.”
Located just east of SH-130 at FM 973 and Braker Lane, 20 minutes from downtown Austin, Whisper Valley is slated to eventually feature 7,500 homes. Its first phase of 237 homes is currently under construction from building partners Pacesetter Homes and Avi Homes, with two still-unnamed building companies signed on for the second phase, which is currently in its planning stage. Home sizes range from 1,100 square feet to 3,000 square feet, with traditional single-family, duplex, tri-plex, town home and patio home lots available.
The key to Whisper Valley’s energy efficiency is its geothermal grid installed for all homes to take advantage of natural heating and cooling energy underground. Harnessing that energy with geothermal heat pumps reduces a home’s energy consumption by 65 percent, with rooftop solar panels providing enough energy to make a typical home site energy independent.
All homes feature energy-efficient appliances from manufacturers like Bosch and other green technology that Taurus is able to provide at a lower cost through bulk purchasing deals.
Gilliland said Taurus created a complementary company – Eco Smart Solutions – to specifically handle green technology options for new homes, with development companies all over the country monitoring the success of Whisper Valley and the market for eco-friendly building.
“We have builders and developers form across the country who are aware and intrigued. There are lots of builders trying to find ways to make more energy efficient homes at a mainstream price point,” he said. “We set up Eco Smart with the idea all the work we put into that business model, we can make it easy for other developers to do what we’ve done at Whisper Valley without becoming rocket scientists. We can set them up with a program and be able to bring those products to their community.”
The development was also recently recognized by the Homebuilder Association of Greater Austin, winning the organization’s award for best new community.
In addition to the utility savings and satisfaction of green living, early buyers of all ages have been won over by the lifestyle offerings available in Whisper Valley, including nature, fitness and educational activities, a monthly farmers market, walking and fitness groups and a resort-style swimming pool heated using the geogrid system.
A partnership with the Lettuce urban farming company will see fruits and vegetables grown around the 2,000 acre property delivered to residents, a move organizers hope will help make Whisper Valley a more food-neutral community.
Kara Weinstein, the lifestyle and home owners association director for Whisper Valley, said early residents are already throwing birthday parties amongst themselves and building babysitting and pet-walking networks, which will strengthen the sense of community as more homes come online.
“Seeing the connections happening shows that we are already on the other side of the curve of knowing and trusting your neighbor,” she said. ”People have commented, old and new, first-time buyers and empty nesters downsizing…they all say they have found their tribe, and they want to live with people who are likeminded in living an eco-conscious lifestyle. Even though they’re all coming from different backgrounds they all have a unifying desire to live in a sustainable environment.”