Lower utility bills, green living part of new master-planned community

Austin

A new development in east Travis County is trying a different strategy: surpassing current standard building codes and environmental building practices. The Whisper Valley development—situated east of SH 130 and just a few miles south of Manor—is hoping this will pay off in more affordable, enjoyable places to live in the long run. 

Wednesday, the Discovery and Amenity Center at Whisper Valley received the Austin Energy Green Building three-star rating for more efficient energy and water use. In the center, you’ll find an 80-kilowatt solar system that is intended to produce more than 115 percent of the building’s annual energy.

Each of the homes is equipped with solar panels and is connected to a community energy grid. The buildings are constructed and insulated with sustainable building materials, and ground-source heat pumps adjust the temperature in buildings and the community pool. In this development, you’ll also find Tesla charging stations and native plants that require less irrigation.

For those with a green thumb, the mixed-used community also has a garden and farm people can use.

So far, 22 families have already moved into homes at the development. 

“For me, it’s very important that new homes should be able to give something back that’s gonna make this earth much friendlier, it’s gonna help reduce our carbon footprint,” said David Williams, a recent Whisper Valley resident. 

Williams, who works in The Domain area of Austin, said he doesn’t mind the 15-minute drive it takes to get to work or to downtown Austin. 

“It’s something that was really appealing to me, to be part of something that’s gonna be first of its kind here in the Austin community,” Williams said. 

Two months ago, he closed on his three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home for $229,000, which was less than the last home he had in South Austin. 

The biggest difference he’s noticed since moving is the increase in energy savings.

Many of the residents are seeing utility bills in the single digits, a spokesperson for the community told KXAN.

These first homes start from the low $200s to $400s and feature local builders Pacesetter Homes and Avi Homes. But Taurus Investment Holdings, the developer of Whisper Valley, says this is just the first phase, they plan for this to eventually be a small city. In roughly 15 years, they hope Whisper Valley will include around 7,500 homes and 20,000 residents. Additionally, the development team plans to install over 2 million square feet of restaurants, shops and businesses. 

“We’re creating a better lifestyle for people who would otherwise would be living in communities with very few amenities, not sustainable, higher energy costs,” said Douglas Gilliland, the Director of Development for Texas of Taurus Investment. He added the development will also come to include rental homes and more family-oriented homes down the road. 

The homes in this development meet the carbon neutral standard the city of Austin promotes. The developer says each home qualifies for an average Federal Tax Credit of $7-10,000.

Debbie Kimberly, vice president for customer energy solutions with Austin Energy, was excited to see the Whisper Valley development Wednesday. She feels developments like this are part of the energy-efficient direction Austin is headed in for the future. 

She explained that many of the new-high rises within the city are being constructed with green building standards that surpass the requirements in the city’s energy code—which Kimberley calls one of the most ambitious in the country. 

But for those who don’t live in energy-efficient homes, Kimberly said there’s plenty that they can do to lower energy costs. Austin Energy has a rebate program which has lowered the cost of items like LED bulbs and power strips at 72 stores around Austin. Kimberly also explained that by checking the Austin Energy app, you can observe how much power you’re using on a daily basis and how much it’s going to cost.  

“This is really about doing the right thing for our kids, our grandkids our future and our community,” Kimberley said. 

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