Green residents keep more of their green

Results are coming in from what some people consider the state's first subsidized "green" housing development, Petersburg Commons in Perry County.

Monthly electric bills at the town houses average about $100 less than those of a conventional unit, said Christopher Gulotta, executive director of Cumberland County housing and redevelopment authorities.

The project was developed by Perry Green Building Housing Corp., a nonprofit subsidiary of the housing authority. The 14 units were finished and occupied by residents at the end of 2005, giving officials a year of data to evaluate energy efficiency.

Sonia Enders, a single mother with three daughters, has lived in one of the town houses since September. Her highest electric bill so far is $76 for the all-electric house. She had been renting a smaller town house where the electric bill reached $135 in the summer.

The green features are apparent from outside. Wood siding made from hemlock looks unfinished but will darken as it ages. The roof consists of locally made metal shingles with a high content of recycled materials, said Bruce Quigley, who designed Petersburg Commons as principal of the Office for Planning and Architecture in Harrisburg.

The single most valuable energy-saving feature might be the cupola, where polycarbonate glazing is used to provide window-like screening on one of the side walls.

"It's cheaper than windows but thermally better than windows," Quigley said.

Enders can operate the screening, windows and fan in the cupola by a remote control on a second-floor wall.

A vent bringing in natural air comes on automatically in the first-floor bathroom when someone walks in. Enders was told the feature counteracts the "tightness" of the walls in her town house, which were built to keep inside air from getting out and outside air from coming in.

Gulotta said the units cost about $160,000 each to build but they appraised at $120,000, because the development is in a rural area. The units were priced at $85,000 to sell to lower-income families.

The green features added about 6 percent to construction costs. But Gulotta said the features make Petersburg Commons more affordable in the long run.

Elsewhere in the midstate, green features in houses are on the rise.

Messiah Village markets green features of its Cottages on Willow Way, which will be the first major expansion of the residential complex in Upper Allen Twp. since 1992, said Emerson Lesher, president of Messiah Village.

The attributes will include recycled carpeting, appliances that have the federal government's "Energy Star" rating, and use of bamboo, cork and porcelain materials in the kitchen and laundry areas.

"The green concept is relatively new compared to before. That was not really an option" in 1992, Lesher said.

Nearly a quarter of the 43 units of The Cottages on Willow Way have been pre-sold, Lesher said. The units start at $199,000 and Messiah Village hopes to begin building this summer.

"There are ways we could have made it greener, but we decided that we could not because of the cost. We chose to have a balance. We felt these are things we could include and still be very competitive insofar as pricing," Lesher said.

In Carlisle, a green residential condominium development is being planned by Dave Sheridan, a civil engineer and executive director of the Green Building Association of Central Pennsylvania. Sheridan formed his own development firm, the Sustainable Community Development Company, last year.

Sheridan's goal for Bedford Mews is that each of the 20 to 22 condos be 50 percent more energy efficient than housing built to standard codes.

He intends to use insulated concrete walls. He also intends to centralize heating and cooling -- instead of each condo having its own system -- and to generate on-site electricity from natural gas, a practice known as combined heat and power, or CHP.

Sheridan hopes to install solar panels on the largest roof of the development. The panels could generate electricity for the condos. Or, the condo association could derive revenue by leasing all or part of the roof's solar-power capability to someone else, Sheridan said.

He hopes lawmakers approve a Rendell administration proposal to rebate 50 percent of the cost of installing solar electric roof panels on homes and businesses. Otherwise, Sheridan doubts that he can attract investment needed to pay for the panels.

The condos will range from 600 square feet to 1,800 square feet, and he will price many of them at about $180,000, although some of the larger condos will be more expensive.

DAN MILLER: 255-8440 or

INFOBOX:

WHAT IS GREEN?

In construction, green refers to using materials or systems that consume less energy. The term also means using materials that are made in a way to have less impact on the environment. For instance, green materials might be wholly or mostly made from recycled products.

HOW MUCH DOES ELECTRICITY COST?

The average monthly electric bill at Petersburg Commons throughout 2006 ranged from $47.87 to $75.61, based on a study of five units selected from the 14 town houses in Perry County. The appliances and heating/cooling in the "green" units are all electric.

A town house built to more conventional standards has a monthly electric bill ranging from $140 to $180, according to Christopher Gulotta, executive director of the Cumberland County housing and redevelopment authorities.

The Petersburg Commons units were developed by Perry Green Building Housing Corp., a nonprofit subsidiary of the housing authority. Wagman Construction of York County was the general contractor for Petersburg Commons, said Eric Menzer, Wagman's vice president.



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