BRATTLEBORO—Think of it as a green-building advocate’s version of “touch a truck.”
Brattleboro-based Sustainable Energy Outreach Network is hosting its first “sustainable home tour” on Saturday, Oct. 15, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It features seven specially outfitted, environmentally friendly houses in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, Putney, and Saxtons River.
The idea is to let the public get up close and personal with new and renovated homes that have been designated as “high performance.” Energy efficiency plays a big role in that label, but there’s a lot more to it, said Guy Payne, the network’s executive director.
“When we use the phrase, ‘high-performance homes,’ we’re trying to get away from the idea of ‘green homes,’ because people don’t really know what that means,” Payne said. “We’re really talking about homes that are oriented toward high efficiency, durability, indoor air quality, and renewables.”
The outreach network, also known as SEON, started about four years ago in Brattleboro. Recently, SEON has been in the news for heading up the Windham Wood Heat Initiative, a state-funded project that aims to convert school and municipal buildings to modern, efficient, wood-heating systems.
In general, SEON is focused on developing and promoting the area as a green building hot spot while also educating the public on topics like renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The sustainable home tour is designed to be both promotional and educational. Theresa Spear, who is SEON’s office manager, said the event was inspired by similar, regional home tours that have been organized by the Greenfield, Massachusetts-based Northeast Sustainable Energy Association.
“That was really how I learned an enormous amount about what goes into sustainable homes,” Spear said. “I got to see it and touch it.”
SEON administrators believe the Oct. 15 tour could be helpful to homeowners as well as potential homebuyers; real estate agents and appraisers; inspectors; and students learning building trades or environmental science.
A contractor will be available at each site to answer questions.
“We have new homes,” Payne said. “We have one home that’s an addition, and homes that are what’s called ‘deep energy retrofit’ — taking an existing home and doing a major remodeling with many of those features.”
The new homes include a prefabricated, one-story residence created by Walpole, New Hampshire-based Unity Homes, as well as a modular home from Wilder-based VERMOD, a manufacturer formed in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.
One of the featured renovation projects transformed a Saxtons River home that is listed on the National Historic Registry into a model for energy efficiency via measures such as high-tech insulation and heat pumps, tour organizers say.
It’s just one example of the Windham region’s green building expertise — a concept that’s currently being further developed by Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., which is working on a study of a green-building “cluster.”
“This is another way for us to showcase that for the area — to say, ‘Look, high-performance builders are doing this work in this area,’” Spear said. “I don’t think they’re aware that this area is as rich with that kind of stuff as it is.”
Payne said the event is serving as a SEON fund-raiser.
He expects that the home tour will become an annual event. In the future, Payne is hoping to show off sustainable-home renovations that are still in progress.
“Hopefully, we can get into more of the staged renovations that I think can appeal to folks,” he said.