Support Us Button Widget

Welcome home: Whisper Valley is a sustainable version of a ‘throwback’ neighborhood

Nestled far east between Austin and Manor, Whisper Valley is a quiet, tight-knit community that is united through sustainability, neighborly values and a firm commitment to camaraderie.

A house in Whisper Valley

Whisper Valley has already completed phase one of its master-planned community.

Photo courtesy of Whisper Valley

Whisper Valley has created a new type of community—one that actually saves energy during the winter storm and “driven by the inspiration to do the right thing.” Though it may be a little far from the city center, Whisper Valley developers predict the 2,067-acre will be well-known for its unconventional method in the coming years.

Driving through the community, you’re bound to notice the array or solar panels on every home and the quiet ambiance. What you won’t see is the underground geothermal system that keeps the community running up to 70% more efficiently and uses a small fraction of the energy that a similar development would.

“The large difference is the ground source heat pump is transferring heat back and forth to the ground through water,” EcoSmart Solutions Community Relations Manager David Currie said. “An air source heat pump is rejecting heat to the outdoor air.”

Most homes are cooled and heated with air, which is “really terrible” at transferring heat according to Currie. Instead, the company uses water as its medium—underneath each home is a borehole and eco-friendly PEX-A or HDPE piping, which EcoSmart uses to circulate water throughout the entire development with its geogrid.

Currie often compares the system to the human body—people sweat because water is more effective at transferring heat away on a hot summer’s day.

When Texas’ momentous winter storm hit in February, the electricity grid collapsed due to peak demand from homes across the state all at once. That problem doesn’t happen with Whisper Valley homes; the Sunday before the storm hit, Currie said his small Austin apartment used 100-kilowatt hours of energy while EcoSmart Solution’s home-turned-office only used 44 kWh.

But sustainability is only what brings homeowners to the development—it’s the robust community that keeps them there.

Take it from residents Jennifer Abbamonte and Melissa Walker, who said they moved from the Washington D.C. area in March. When the pair first arrived in Austin they were planning on buying a condo downtown and originally toured Whisper Valley to rule it out. They put in an offer just days later.

“We had no thoughts of living out here and didn’t realize the open house that we were coming to tour was in Whisper Valley,” Abbamonte said. “It was a pretty quick decision once we saw the community and met some of the folks that were already a part of it.”

The amenities that come with Whisper Valley are also highly relationship-focused: residents teach yoga classes by the pool, give away homegrown vegetables from the community garden and there’s even a Slack group chat dedicated to the neighborhood.

Abbamonte and Walker are frequent block party hosts, where they said up to 50 of their neighbors gather for drinks, games, barbecues and just having an old-fashioned good time. They said they’ve made some great friends since living in Whisper Valley.

“It’s more of the old, throwback neighborhood feel,” Walker said. “We’ve lent tools out, people have lent us their tools. People are happy to come over and help you move a piece of furniture if you can’t. People want to give things away or exchange things and there’s an ongoing conversation.”

Additionally, Whisper Valley has a commitment to affordable housing, with new homes starting in the $300,000’s. If you’re not ready to buy, the development is in the process of building apartments, duplexes and homes to rent, so the technology is at least more accessible to the masses. Buying a sustainable home also offers the advantage of federal tax credits, which come in at 26% at the moment.

With phase one complete, phases two, three and four of the development are underway and though there isn’t much to see yet, there will be anywhere from 800-1,000 dwellings.

The homes will be joined by plans for restaurants, shopping centers, schools and more in the coming years, which Currie says also have the possibility to connect to the geogrid. Plus, another EcoSmart and Millican Reserve development is in the works in College Station, so the technology is scalable.

“We’re taking this as a template and then dropping it elsewhere, working with developers, making sure that we work with the city that everybody understands the concept,” Currie said. “At the end of the day, everybody comes home a winner because we’re doing things right by the environment, saving people money, and we’re doing something a little bit different to try and force a positive change.”

More from ATXtoday