Verde means "green" in Spanish — and the developers of Ashland's 11-acre, 68-home Verde Village say their project will live up to its name.

Verde means "green" in Spanish — and the developers of Ashland's 11-acre, 68-home Verde Village say their project will live up to its name.

Slated to break ground this summer on the former site of the Ashland Greenhouses, Verde Village will be one of the most environmentally friendly housing developments ever seen in the region.

House shoppers will find passive solar floor mass, radiant floor heating tied to a geothermal source, solar water heating, rooftop photo-voltaic panels, rain-catchment systems, smaller, more open floor plans, insulated panels in the walls and roofs, along with community gardens and many other green features.

It may be a gamble, because many of these green features cost more money, setting the homes about 20 percent over the average new Ashland home. However, say builders Greg and Valri Williams, the dwellings are designed to achieve zero net energy, meaning they will produce or save more energy than they consume. Over time — and as energy costs climb — owners should recoup their investment through energy savings, says Valri Williams.

"This is really the most comprehensive community concept of integrated design of green features," says Fred Gant, of Earth Advantage, a nonprofit organization that sets green building standards and certifies green-built structures. Verde Village, as designed, could achieve a platinum rating, the group's highest score, Gant says.

"That's what's exciting about this project," Gant says. "The sustainable concept, using all the benefits of energy savings and community resources, including mass transit and biking-hiking paths."

The Verde Village site on West Nevada Street has been in the Williams family for three generations, spanning 102 years. Most locals would recognize the tract as the long-time home of the Ashland Greenhouses. Verde Village is the couple's first venture into housing development — and their first foray into the complex world of green technologies, they say.

They must be quick learners, because the project is being used as a model by the state Department of Energy "to help developers through the maze of grants and tax credits and create a matrix for how to build a home," Greg Williams says.

Plans for Verde Village have been drawn so that all homes will face south for maximum solar gain. All the streets will lie on an east-west axis so one house doesn't block the sun of another.

Homes are planned in three categories — single-family houses from 1,500 to 2,600 square feet (with garages), cottages at 900 to 1,200 square feet (no attached garages, but with central covered parking) and "affordable" townhouses, to be built by Rogue Valley Community Development Corporation, on land donated by the couple, mostly with 3 or 4 bedrooms. The townhouses will have all the green features of the stand-along houses except PV panels, says RVCDC's John Wheeler, though grants are being sought to include solar on the townhouses, as well.

The theme at Verde Village is "small is beautiful," with no extra game rooms or "Christmas gift wrapping rooms," says Valri Williams. The couple used a book called "The Not So Big House," by Sarah Susanka, as their bible. Each dwelling will include a Great Room, and most everything will be on the ground floor (some will have lofts) for maximum use of floor as solar mass. The layout will enable occupants to continue living there as they age.

All homes will be plugged into a community-wide, ground source heat pump, which will channel water through a naturally warmer 56-degree level of the soil, meaning it will take less energy to heat water.

All homes will be built with a "high performance, extra-tight building envelope," says Greg Williams. ICFs (Insulated Concrete Forms) are planned for the walls, while SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) will be used on roofs.

Passive solar floor mass collects the sun's heat on winter days, keeping the house warmer at night. In summer, the floor mass stays cool with the help of roof overhangs.

All homes will have Energy Star appliances and be fitted with "day lighting" — lots of windows, especially on the south side, to cut the use of artificial light.

Home owners will harvest rainwater from roofs for non-drinking purposes, such as gardens and toilets. Water from yards and streets will drain into bio-swales, which will purify runoff before it reaches adjacent Ashland Creek.

"What you get from that is cleaner water and live fish," says Greg Williams.

Although it's a net zero community, Verde Village will still be on the power grid, and each home's power bill will reflect the amount of juice that house feeds back to the grid.

Building a green community clearly requires a lot of extra work, learning and money, so why did they do it?

"We looked at the values we had and instead of trying to make the most profit, we said, 'What's the wisest use of the land, water and energy?' We were naïve and idealistic," says Valri. "We've wondered if it's a good idea, but we're into it up to our tutus and we believe it's the right thing to do."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.