Austin Boasts Largest ‘Net Zero’ Development

Lew Sichelman   |   May 15, 2017

The Austin, Texas, metro area will boast the largest “net zero” master-planned community in the nation. At Whisper Valley, about 7,500 eco-friendly single-family homes, townhomes, and rental apartments are to be built completely energy-self-sufficient. That means the homes will send as much power back to the grid as residents use. The $2 billion community will open in the next month. It sprawls more than 2,000 acres about eight miles east of Austin. “This is the largest zero-energy project of its kind anywhere in the United States,” says Lorenz Reibling, cofounder of Taurus Investment Holdings, the developer of the community. With rising energy costs around the country, the idea of “net zero” is spreading to expansive developments, from just one home here or there or a cluster of homes in a small subdivision. Whisper Valley boasts an energy-efficient heating and cooling system, which will connect homes to geothermal pumps that are 50 percent to 60 percent more efficient than traditional HVAC systems. Each home will also feature solar panels, energy-efficient appliances, and smart-home products to adjust thermostats according to homeowners’ schedules. Homeowners will not have to pay anything upfront for the geothermal system, solar panels, or energy-efficient appliances. Taurus estimates that the “green” amenities will cost about $30,000 to $50,000 per house. Instead, buyers will pay for the amenities over time, about $175 a month through a 25-year financing program. “By taking this approach, we will make a significant impact by making high-performance homes much more affordable,” says Douglas Gilliland, president of Taurus of Texas. Whisper Valley also will include amenities like a geothermal-heated community pool, electrical vehicle charging station, community gardens, and hiking and biking trails. The first phase of homes are priced from the high $100,000 to $300,000s (much less than the median price of homes for sale in Austin, $455,000, and in East Austin, $371,000).