There’s a figure that often appears at Walnut Farm: $6.58.
That figure is the common balance due found on neighborhood resident’s monthly Dominion Energy bill, and it’s comprised just of the power company’s administrative fees. A billing cycle during which a homeowner just pays administrative fees means that the dwelling produced more energy than it consumed.
Walnut Farm is the brainchild of Jay Epstein, president of Healthy Communities, a Williamsburg-based homebuilder-developer that aims to construct state-of-the-art homes in sustainable neighborhoods. Epstein said that Walnut Farm is Virginia’s first zero energy ready new home community.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home Program recognizes homebuilders who commit to practices that greatly improve energy efficiency and air quality and allow homes to produce enough power to offset what they use.
Homes in the Norge-area residential development are built to far exceed customary homebuilding standards. For instance, the dwellings have high “minimum efficiency reporting value” ratings, which indicate effective air filtration. And one of the prominent features available for new homebuyers is the hardware and wiring necessary for solar panels on the roof and installation of the panels if they choose. Epstein guarantees a monthly power bill less than $1.50 a day, averaged over a year, for the homes with solar panels installed.
The building techniques have been modified to allow for better insulation and to use less wood, framing walls with 2-by-6 studs spaced 24 inches, instead of the typical 2-by-4 studs at 16 inches. High-efficiency windows minimize temperature loss and reflect light. Recirculating hot water pumps use less energy and save upwards of $160 per year. These numerous features aim to reduce the homes’ carbon footprint.
“This is how homes should be built,” Epstein said.
Phyllis Morris bought a new home in Walnut Farm in July 2020, relocating from Newport News. There her monthly power bill sometimes topped $200, so she was pleased when she began getting power bills in the single digits. “When I saw how energy efficient these homes were, that really pulled me in,” she said.
And while Morris said that she is happy with the energy and cost savings of her new home, she feels like she is making a small contribution to the greater good. The typical home in Walnut Farm has half or less of the carbon footprint of other standard dwellings.
Paula Soukup moved into her home in November with her 93-year-old mother-in-law. Soukup said she likes the one-story residence as well as all the features that make the home healthier and more livable as she and her mother-in-law age. “I did a lot of research and when I found Walnut Farm I never looked back,” Soukup said. “My mother-in-law says this is the healthiest home she’s ever lived in.”
The idea for Walnut Farm found a positive reception because there’s long been a focus on environmental concerns within the James City County’s Department of Community Development, said Principal Planner Ellen Cook. As the county has been receiving input and updating its Comprehensive Plan, environmental quality and preservation has been a through line over the years, she said, and is one of the highly ranked priorities of citizens and policymakers.
Cook said that conversations are happening about how environmental priorities and alternative energy uses can be implemented during the current effort to revise the Comprehensive Plan.
Epstein said that he faces some challenges in the build-out of this community, despite the ready appetite for green initiatives. Like other homebuilders, he has encountered some shortages and price surges in building materials, forcing him to look for alternative suppliers. And he said that he is trying to head off a proposed regulatory change that would set a higher minimum monthly charge for power customers.
Epstein said that he has sold about 30 of the planned 75 homes, which range from 1,500 to 2,800 square feet. Affordability has been a priority, too, and the homes range from $359,000 to $600,000.
Before he began building Walnut Farm, Epstein developed a Richmond solar home community called The Villas at Rocketts Landing. He continues to proceed with a vision of bringing more green homes to Williamsburg, planning to develop Solara Woods in Toano with a novel solar-powered community design.
Epstein said that he is pleased with the progress at Walnut Farm and glad that he was able to build the community near Williamsburg, where he has lived for almost 30 years.
“I wanted to bring home what I did in Richmond and enlighten other people about the benefits of building and living this way.”
Homes For Sale in Walnut Farm
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