This post is sponsored by the Whisper Valley. All Austin Common sponsors are screened by The Austin Common team to ensure they’re doing good for their employees, customers, our community, and the planet.
Back in 2006, a 2,063-acre plot of land was purchased in east Austin. The goal? To simply build a housing development.
But then 2008 happened. The entire housing market collapsed and the developers realized it was time to do things differently.
They started to ask themselves – What does sustainable development truly look like? And how can we bring it to Austin, Texas?
More than a decade later, and that plot of land located just east of Walter E. Long Lake and SH 130 (off 973) is Whisper Valley, the first zero energy capable master-planned community in Austin.
What does zero energy capable mean?
Every single home in Whisper Valley comes equipped with solar panels, so they generate their own power. But it’s not just about generating energy, it’s also about reducing demand for it in the first place.
The homes in Whisper Valley do this in several ways.
The GeoGrid™ – Instead of the traditional HVAC compressor unit (which can be extremely inefficient), all homes in Whisper Valley have a ground source heat pump, attached to a geothermal grid.
Why is this better? With traditional HVAC units, hot air is sucked from outside and then cooled down. At Whisper Valley, the ground source heat pump sucks up air from inside your home (where it’s already cooler). The ground source heat pump then extracts the heat from the air and infuses it into a closed-loop water line that runs into the ground beneath the house. As it travels, the heat dissipates, and the water comes back up to the house to start the process over. The air in the ground source heat pump is then cooled by an internal compressor unit to the desired temperature – using less energy!
During the winter time, the entire process remains essentially the same, but in reverse. It’s an energy exchange!
The result? The GeoGrid™ system reduces the average home’s energy consumption in Whisper Valley by up to 65 percent.
“That’s the real big difference that we’re doing here,” explains Kara Weinstein, community director at Whisper Valley. “With solar panels, you usually have to have a lot of panels on top of the roof to generate enough energy to run the home. That’s why you have to reduce the energy first, and that’s what we’re doing.”
All homes in Whisper Valley typically achieve an incredibly low HERS rating of 16-25 compared to the 60+ rating you’ll find on most energy-efficient new homes built today. And that’s what makes Whisper Valley a zero energy capable community. Together with solar, the GeoGrid™, smart home technology, energy-efficient appliances, and good energy habits, homeowners can essentially use “zero” energy.
Not only is that good for the planet, but it also results in big savings. According to Kara, homeowners in Whisper Valley with good energy habits rarely experience bills over $40/ a month, even during the summer.
Energy Resiliency – Homeowners at Whisper Valley are also able to add on a “resiliency package” to their homes, essentially equipping them with home battery systems. During Winter Storm Uri, homeowners with these systems were able to run their heaters, refrigerators, and a few outlets, despite massive power outages across the state.
A holistic approach to “green” living
“This isn’t just, slap some solar panels on it and say it’s a green house,” says Kara. “No, we’re really thinking about it from a holistic sense, every aspect of sustainable development.”
That means ensuring that residents not only have access to eco-friendly homes, but also to healthy food and green spaces.
Whisper Valley has 5 community gardens and an orchard onsite, all managed under the watchful eye of a qualified local farmer, to make sure that the gardens are planted in harmony with nature and produce a bounty of food to help feed the community.
Whisper Valley residents who are interested in gardening (or who just want to learn), can volunteer at the gardens several days a week.
So what happens to the food that gets harvested from the community gardens? It gets packaged up and put in the community center refrigerator, for residents to stop by and pick up.
But what if you don’t know how to cook with the veggies and herbs from the garden? That’s where Whisper Valley’s cooking classes come into play. Local chefs are brought in for healthy-eating classes in the communal kitchen.
“So when we have a bumper crop of something, let’s say, a bumper crop of basil, let’s learn how to make pesto,” explains Kara.
When the entire neighborhood is complete, Whisper Valley will also be home to 700 acres of green space, including a 600 acre signature park, which Kara describes as “East Austin’s answer to Zilker.” Trails will also connect all parts of the neighborhood, making it easy for residents to walk or ride their bikes anywhere.
And that’s not all, Whisper Valley is also home to a dog park, community “resort-style” pool, and fitness center… In other words, there’s lots to do.
“What is a healthy community?,” Kara asks. “It’s when you’re connected.”
As the community director, that’s exactly what Kara is trying to cultivate. She helps to organize yoga classes, 5k fun runs, scavenger hunts for kids, book clubs, and more.
Whisper Valley is also very close to the future Green Line (a train line connecting downtown Austin to Manor that was approved by voters in 2020). A planned electric bus circulator will eventually shuttle Whisper Valley residents back and forth from the train station in Manor.
What’s next for Whisper Valley?
New homes are being built every day in Whisper Valley. If you’re interested in joining the community, click here to schedule a tour.
In the near future, multi-family units will be on site, as well as mixed-used development, bringing sustainable shopping & coffee shops into the neighborhood.
“People are using their purchasing power in a way that aligns with their social, and ethical, and environmental values,” says Kara. “I think it’s so important to be able to provide housing that starts to meet those values.”