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Wentworth Community Housing:

A Look at The Upper Valley’s New Solar-Powered, Super-Insulated Apartments

Extraordinarily affordable and energy-efficient multi-unit building to open in White River Junction this summer

Wentworth Community Housing will be getting most of its energy from the sun, thanks to a 70 kW-DC PV array installed by Norwich Solar Technologies. Efficiencies are seen thoughout the building and interior. Courtesy photos.

Chris Gillespie

Wentworth Community Housing, a collaboration of co-developers Twin Pines Housing and Housing Vermont, is slated to open this July on Sykes Mountain Avenue in White River Junction, VT, likely to the delight of many of the area’s major employers.

Development and Construction

“We were hearing from employers that the high cost of housing was making it difficult to attract employees to the Upper Valley,” said Twin Pines Housing Executive Director Andrew Winter, citing the area’s historically low unemployment and vacancy rates as the main reasons for the Upper Valley’s high cost of housing—and the resulting thirst for affordable alternatives.

Wentworth Community Housing has thirty units, twenty-one of which will be restricted at or below 60% of Windsor County’s area median income. The remaining nine units will be made available to households earning between 80% and 120% of the area median income. These higher income units were made possible by workforce housing funding through Vermont’s 2017 Housing for All Revenue Bond. Winter notes that these nine units, although more expensive than the others in the building, are still below the area’s market rate.

All of Wentworth Community Housing’s one- and two-bedroom apartments have amenities sure to appeal to any future tenants, including new kitchen appliances and an underground garage for parking. Heat, hot water, electricity and waste removal are included in rent. Gossens Bachman of Montpelier served as the building’s architect while ReArch Company, Inc. of South Burlington handled construction.

According to Winter, the views from the building also aren’t half bad, as the property is pushed back into the slope of a hill that overlooks Lily Pond in one direction and the hills of Lebanon, New Hampshire in another. Said Winter, “It feels like you are in a tree house, particularly in the upper floors of the building.”

Solar Energy

Wentworth Community Housing will be getting most of its energy from the sun, thanks to a 70 kW-DC photovoltaic array designed and installed by Norwich Solar Technologies. Expected to go live this summer and be active by the time the first tenants move in, the array will supply tenants’ typical electrical demand as well as power the building’s HVAC system, which includes an energy recovery ventilation (ERV) system that will use heat from exhausted air to heat incoming air.

According to Norwich Solar Technologies, the solar array will produce 80,500 kWh of energy a year, which will offset the annual carbon emissions of twelve passenger vehicles or seven average homes.

Next Generation Energy Efficiency

Twin Pines took great strides to perfect Wentworth Community Housing’s building envelope as well, installing triple-glazed windows and using R32 and R49 insulation for the walls and roof, respectively. Winter says that Twin Pines has been very pleased with the building’s blower door test scores.

In addition to these measures, Wentworth Community Housing will also be one of the first properties to have all of its major systems’ operations monitored by Housing Vermont’s Parsons Platform. According to Winter, the Parsons Platform, will allow Twin Pines to remotely monitor the efficiency of “everything from the solar array, to the hot water heater, to the HVAC and ERV” in order to benchmark performance and identify and diagnose potential issues early on.

“The hope is that, by building more energy efficient buildings and buildings that use solar for heating and cooling needs, we are able to avoid the fluctuating costs of fuel that typically go along with code-compliant buildings,” said Winter. “We work really hard to minimize annual rent increases.”

The Benefits of Sustainable Housing

Utilizing solar energy and curtailing the building’s reliance on fossil fuels is a major win-win for Twin Pines, since they are able to significantly reduce the building’s carbon footprint (the solar array is expected to offset nearly 1,700 metric tons of carbon emissions over the next three decades) while simultaneously stabilizing rent for the tenants. This, says Winter, is a great relief for the Twin Pines team, who are always looking for innovative ways to avoid passing expenses onto tenants.

“We at Twin Pines believe that it is essential for developers of affordable housing to focus on the long-term sustainability of their housing,” said Winter. “Energy-efficient buildings yield benefits for their developers and their tenants.”

For more information about Wentworth Community Housing and to apply for an apartment, visit https://www.tphtrust.org/portfolio-item/wentworth-community-housing/

This article is part of a G.E.T. series on net zero housing in the Northeast. Check out the next issue of G.E.T for the next installment.

Chris Gillespie is a contributing writer for Green Energy Times based in Brooklyn, NY. He can be reached at chris@greenenergytimes.org.

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