DSC 9977, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Chris Garrison’s photostream

Habitat for Humanity has long been known for building simple, decent and affordable housing with volunteer labor — including the labor of those who inhabit the homes that are built. The houses are sold at no profit and financed with affordable loans. To date, Habitat has built over half a million homes around the world. Now, Habitat may become know for another major achievement: building the biggest net-zero project in the country — an entire community which won’t consume more energy than it actually produces.

Habitat for Humanity, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from ZarrSadus’ photostream

The Eco-Village is a project created by the St. Croix Valley, Wisconsin chapter of Habitat. It will consist of 18 single-family and attached homes situated about 45 minutes east of the Twin Cities. The housing development will produce all of its own power through a combination of solar panels and geothermal heating. But, the sustainability doesn’t stop there:

[Director of University of Wisconsin-River Falls’ St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development, Kelly] Cain said the project sets a new standard for low- to moderate-income development nationwide. “We’re pushing these homes off the charts in terms of our pursuit of building efficiencies,” he said, noting that the program goes well beyond the requirements of Energy Star and LEED, two well-known efficiency standards for new houses.

The houses will be heated and cooled with photovoltaic arrays on the roofs and a geothermal heat pump system. Rainwater will be harvested for landscaping and gardening. The walls, floors and ceilings will all go way beyond even the most stringent insulation requirements. And residents will share a car with neighbors and will harvest herbs, fruits and vegetables from a community garden and an “edible landscape” that will surround houses. Though the project is far from finished, planners are already touting it as proof that sustainability on a large scale can be achieved.

An added benefit of living in this Eco-Village will be the hundreds of dollars in energy savings that the homeowners will see each month. You can learn more about this project from the Star Tribune article quoted above and from the St. Croix Valley Habitat website.

A Short Break, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Lauren Wellicome’s photostream