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Sentinel and Enterprise, by Jack Minch

Townsend Developer to Build Devens Houses That Generate Virtually No Energy Costs

October 05, 2010

TOWNSEND – A home without heating bills.

Zip, nada, nothin’.

In fact, R. Carter Scott is developing homes that can sell electricity back into utility grid and MassDevelopment has chosen his company, Transformations, Inc., located in Townsend, to build eight homes on the former Fort Devens military base.

“The Devens project is attractive to me because of its intent on being a model for both Massachusetts and other redevelopment (military) bases around the country,” Scott said as he toured his development on Coppersmith Way and Penny Lane in Townsend.

The basic concept is simple.

Transformations builds super-insulated homes with tight seals and then installs photovoltaic solar panels on the roofs to generate electricity.

There are ranch-styles, saltboxes, farmhouses and Victorians.

Scott is continually tweaking the houses to make them more efficient but most recently used 12,000 BTU Mitsubishi Electric Slim wall-mounted units about the size of a large muffler on each floor of a home for heating.

“With 12-inch walls, you don’t need to get heat in every space,” Scott said. “It permeates the open space until it gets to the super-insulated walls.”

The walls are a foot thick with insulation, but the window sills, which nearly resemble bench seats, are the most obvious signs of the weather-proofing.

“I think we’re the only builder that’s gone to zero-energy on a cost-effective basis in Massachusetts,” Scott said.

The homes are so energy efficient that the newest generation built on Adams Circle at Devens are expected to be equipped with hook-ups to re-charge electric cars, such as the Toyota Prius, he said.

“We’re lined up to add that in Devens,” he said.

Scott’s Townsend development with 41 single-family homes is a 40B project with units that sold as low as $195,200 but the Devens project will have moderately priced units for about $350,000, Scott said.

They were designed by Ben Nickerson of Concord and Woodstock, Vt.

MassDevelopment, which is a quasi-state economic-development agency, announced a competition in August 2009 to build zero-energy homes as part of Gov. Deval Patrick’s energy initiative.

Nine developers, including Transformations, bid for the contract to build at Devens.

“Transformations has a solid record for residential design and construction in Massachusetts, and the company’s specialization in developing zero net energy communities made it an ideal choice for this revolutionary project,” said MassDevelopment President and Chief Executive Officer Robert L. Culver, in a statement released Monday. “We’re thrilled to get started on the first phase of green housing in Devens to demonstrate that sustainable homes can be both attractive and affordable.”

Daniel Bergey and Honorata Wytrykowska, of Building Science Corp. visited the Townsend development Monday to install equipment to monitor temperature and airflow at one of the homes waiting to be sold.

Building Science is performing energy modeling and monitoring for the Department of Energy’s Building American Program.

“Carter is building some of the best-insulated houses that anyone is building these days and so there are definitely research questions that we don’t know how these houses behave and what the best ways to keep them, are; and no one wants to put in a more expensive heating system than is necessary so we’d like to find ways to save people money here,” Bergey said.

Scott said he wants to start work in late winter or early spring.

MassDevelopment is expected to award a contract for energy efficient multi-family housing to another developer but details were not being released Monday.

“We are in the process with finalizing an agreement with a separate developer to work in another component,” said spokesman Kelsey Abbruzzese. “We will have an announcement on that soon.”

Devens currently has 106 homes and its plans call for a cap of 282, she said.

© Copyright 2010 Sentinel and Enterprise.