By LeeAnn Cain / Staff Writer
The small house is very warm, although owner Ashley Warren assures her guests the heat isn’t on. In fact, it is hardly ever on because it’s rarely needed.
This is one of the benefits of owning a “passive energy” house.
Friday saw a groundbreaking ceremony in Emlyn for 13 new houses like Warren’s. These houses are built to be airtight and well-insulated, resulting in affordable homes with minimal electric bills–sometimes even in the single digits.
These houses, as well as the 13 new homes, are being built in conjunction with Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, the University of Kentucky, and Stardust Cruisers. The project is being funded by a $1 million community block grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This money was presented at Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony by Commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Local Government Tony Wilder.
A passive energy house is a house with zero net energy use; the construction of the house and its insulation means that almost no energy goes into heating or cooling, which is the largest consumer of energy in a home. The remaining energy use is from outlets and water heaters, and this is taken care of by solar panels attached to the roof of the house. In other words, the house generates as much energy as it uses.
“These homes are bringing new technology into the community,” said Whitley County Judge-Executive Pat White, Jr. “We’re giving young families new opportunities.”
During the ceremony, Warren, along with Linda Cox and her son Jacob, were presented with certificates by Director of Housing for Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation Tom Manning-Beavin certifying their home is a passive energy home.
“One day soon there’s going to be value in having no electric bill,” Manning-Beavin said.
According to White, there are only 78 passive energy homes in the United States and Emlyn has the highest concentration of these homes in the country with four.
“This project has so many positive elements,” Wilder said. “Governor [Steve Beshear] felt like this is what we need to do. We’ve got to practice saving energy for ourselves, because folks getting affordable, safe housing is important.”
Administrator of Rural Housing and Community Facilities Tony Hernandez brought Warren and the Coxes before the crowd and said the future is with people who live and invest in passive-energy homes.
The houses are known as Houseboat to Energy Efficient Residences (HBEER) and are built by Stardust Cruisers in Monticello.
The houses are being built in the region’s houseboat plants and according to Wilder nearly 80 percent of a home’s value will be from products made in Kentucky. This project is meant to create green jobs, revive the houseboat industry, utilize Kentucky products, and provide energy-efficient housing, Wilder said.