Eco-friendly subdivision's developer to put home on display

Eco-friendly subdivision's developer to put home on display

Debbie Insana is out to prove that there are various shades of green with the first house – the Insana family house – at her Brickhouses Road development in rural Urbana.

The house will be showcased from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Brickhouses Road subdivision, located just east of the intersection of High Cross and Airport roads in rural Urbana.

Insana will be on hand to answer questions about the house and the surrounding green development.

Her contractors will also be on hand to answer questions.

"I tried to use what people think of when it comes to being green and address that in a way that's comfortable to me. I'm picking and choosing the best of both worlds," Insana says.

The idea was to build a house that uses green building principles and yet have it conform to personal tastes. For example, the brick house – what else would you expect in a subdivision called Brickhouses – uses passive solar construction methods.

Most of the windows are south-facing, with the sun's rays passing through and heating the brick and concrete walls in the sunroom. In turn, the heat radiates from the walls throughout the home.

"But not all the windows are south-facing. We have windows in other places. Out here we get great breezes that I wanted to take advantage of," Insana says.

And while compact fluorescent lights are all the rage these days, Insana doesn't like them.

"It's the size of the bulbs. They are odd and awkward – I just don't care for them," she says.

That meant using energy-efficient fluorescent tube lights in certain places, LED lighting in the kitchen and over the porches, and sticking with regular incandescent lights in other spots.

"I'll probably have 50 signs scattered around the house explaining why this is green and why I did it this way," Insana says.

Insana created the Brickhouses Road Subdivision last year when she and her husband, Mike, a professor in the Bioengineering Department at the University of Illinois, bought the property. She wanted to build a development of green houses, with passive solar construction, rooftop solar panels to generate electricity and similar features.

None of the seven, approximately 1-acre lots in the development, priced from $120,000 to $140,000, have sold.

But Insana says there has been interest and as part of the open house celebration she is knocking 10 percent off the price of the lots and offering free solar roof panels to the first homebuilder (Insana also happens to be a dealer for solar roof laminates).

The Insana home, naturally, has thin sheets of rooftop solar panels on top of the south-facing metal roof to generate electricity. She may add more solar panels at a later date, depending on the need.

"The only way to tell" whether the solar panels are generating enough electricity to run most aspects of the home "is an active year of living in the house," she says.

Other green, energy-efficient features of the two-story, three-bedroom, 3½-bath, 3,400-square-foot home, incl- ude:

– Thick, 12-inch walls with tight construction and an insulation value of R-30.

– A geothermal forced-air and radiant floor system.

"A lot of people are familiar with geothermal," Insana says, "but I don't think they realize all that you can do with it."

– Energy-star rated appliances, including an LCD TV with LED backlighting.

– A masonry fireplace that holds heat and radiates that warmth throughout the house.

– Two separate duct systems, one for the upstairs and one for the downstairs. None of the ductwork runs through an unconditioned (no heat, no A/C) space, like the attic.

– Various parts of the house can easily be closed off if not in use to cut down on heating and cooling needs.

"We have a lot of ways to close off the house and make it smaller," Insana says.

But green building methods cannot yet match the cost of conventional construction, although prices are coming down for some aspects, like solar panels, as production ramps up and they become more common. Insana says the home costs about $850,000 to build.

"I have some high-end stuff. This is a seriously brick house and brick is a huge expense in this house. Brick is everywhere, including inside," she says. "A metal roof costs twice as much as an asphalt roof – but it's forever and there are no maintenance costs.

"Durability was the focus – if you are going to build it once, you build it right. I'm very proud of this house. I can't wait to live in it. Everything feels right. I'm going to stay in it forever."

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