Is this a home of the future? Yes. But for new homeowners at Village Green in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, the future begins now. Last year President Bill Clinton launched the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) during groundbreaking ceremonies for Village Green. The President said, "PATH will be the most ambitious effort ever to help private homebuilders and homeowners make cost-effective decisions that will pay big dividends through the 21st century." He proclaimed Village Green a PATH National Pilot Project, a community that would be a model for the U.S. construction industry because of its new approaches to land planning and design and its highly innovative technologies. The first three model homes opened May 13. By the end of this year, 60 of the planned 186 energy-saving homes will be built. Each home is being built to fulfill the President's promise.
Success requires careful planning. The builders of Village Green, Lee Homes by the Lee Group and Braemar Urban Ventures, along with their financial partner, the American Communities Fund, planned from the outset to build outstanding, affordable housing for first-time buyers. They selected 18 acres next to a Metrolink transit station for the single-family detached homes. The future community of Village Green was surrounded by development. Such a location, called an infill site, cuts costs because utilities and roads are already in place. The location also means that the new community will contribute to the existing, greater urban environment itself, rather than extend urban sprawl. Village Green's proximity to a transit station also qualified it for a grant under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act to improve access and use of the Metrolink and feeder bus lines.
The Village Green homes face their neighbors. This allows the builders to place 38 homes on existing roads, thus reducing the amount of roads necessary for the remainder of the development. The builders' offer to work with surrounding homeowners to make necessary improvements to their existing homes, their decision to build a nongated development that facilitates access through Village Green to the Metrolink station for area residents, and the creation of a 25,000-square-foot park in the center of the development open to the public made Village Green a welcome part of the greater community from its beginning.
This public goodwill translated into municipal help in everything from provision of specially sized sewer lines to curbside recycling services for the new community. The Village Green builders worked closely with Los Angeles city departments including planning, public works, building and safety, and water and power to interpret city codes and reduce unnecessary delays.
The builders also pursued financing tools with the city of Los Angeles, Fannie Mae, and the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) to increase affordability through lower mortgages and closing costs. One program developed by Fannie Mae, called a location-efficient mortgage, offers a reduced mortgage rate due to Village Green's proximity to the Metrolink and transit center. A number of lenders also agreed to reduce closing costs by $500 because Village Green meets SoCalGas's energy-efficiency standards.
The President's announcement of Village Green as a PATH National Pilot Project triggered immediate action. A PATH National Pilot Project team, led by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Building America program, presented design, construction, and technology recommendations derived from the construction of test homes and extensive laboratory and computer analyses by the nation's foremost experts in building science and technology.
Village Green's builders used Building America's systems engineering approach. Decisions, once made independently, considered the entire design, manufacturing, and construction processes, thereby increasing quality and performance without increasing cost.
The optimum approach for healthy, safe, comfortable, energy-efficient homes is to construct a tight building envelope (the barrier between the interior of a house and outside elements) and provide controlled mechanical ventilation. Village Green adopted that practice.
Village Green uses state-of-the-art building materials and systems. Steel-framed wall components and advanced framing systems made with engineered wood products reduce the amount of lumber used, leaving more room in the walls for insulation.
Each home is insulated with cellulose insulation, which provides a superinsulated wall assembly. An innovative, forced-air duct distribution system ensures that all ductwork is contained within the home's thermal barrier. No ductwork is located in exterior walls or attic spaces, so energy costs for heating and cooling are lower.
The use of key draft-stopping provides for a much tighter building envelope -- 50 percent tighter than standard construction -- that eliminates drafts and improves comfort and energy efficiency.
A revolutionary window glazing system lets visible light through, but keeps the solar heat out in summer and the heat inside in winter. The substitution of vinyl for metal in the window frames increases the insulating properties of the windows. The dual-glazed windows also block 87 percent of ultraviolet rays, reducing fading and damage to rugs and fabrics inside.
The tight building envelope enabled the builders to downsize heating and cooling equipment by 50 percent. The builders replaced the furnace and the traditional water heater with an integrated space-heat combination system. A gas water heater in the garage (outside the building envelope) pumps instant hot water into the house and supplies space heat through a water-to-heat exchanger or fan coil in the winter.
To demonstrate new, emerging technologies and to reduce high demands for electricity in the summer months, SoCalGas, DOE, and the Robur Corporation are providing financial assistance for the installation of natural gas absorption chillers (GAX) in each Village Green home. The air cooling systems, which use chilled water for air conditioning, use natural gas with no ozone-destroying agents. With the support of BP Solar Corporation and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Village Green is installing rooftop photovoltaic panels. The solar energy arrays will provide up to 90 percent of each household's average electrical demand.
A controlled ventilation system complements the tight, energy-saving building envelope. The system enhances indoor air quality, comfort, and freshness by bringing in outside air when needed by the occupants. The ventilation system also eliminates the buildup of odors or pollutants and the possible entrance of soil, gas, radon, and pesticides.
Village Green homes meet the Engineered for Life standard and surpass the Model Energy Code. Monthly energy bills are anticipated to be as low as 50 percent of those of older, conventional homes. Village Green homes also qualify for the U.S. EPA's ENERGY STAR® program. An ENERGY STAR® home reduces air pollution and helps reduce utility bills.
Innovations employed by Village Green produce energy efficiencies that are expected to translate into heating and cooling bills 30 percent lower than those of typically constructed homes. Greenstone, the insulation company, guarantees that a Village Green homeowner will pay no more than $40 per month for energy bills during the first 2 years.
Public interest in the two-story, detached, single-family homes is excellent: The first 18 homes currently under construction have been sold, and a waiting list has begun for the others. Each home features 3 or 4 bedrooms, 2 ½ baths, up to 1,700 square feet of living space, and a 2-car garage. Prices begin at $160,000, with monthly payments as low as $1,000.
Jeff Lee of Lee Homes said, "This experience has changed the way we build homes. We are going to put energy-efficient technology into our homes in the future. Homebuyers want and appreciate this technology, particularly the cost savings." Lee cautions, however, that "Technology alone is not enough. The price must be right. Success is a pocketbook issue. We show people that these innovations save them money each month. The homebuyers like that and then they tell their friends, 'By the way, it's good for the environment, too.' "