Home builder Jay Epstein waited nearly four decades for his DARST moment.
“DARST,” an acronym Epstein coined years ago for his children, stands for Dreams and Reality Sometimes Touch. The acronym is now on dramatic display at Walnut Farm, a new community of 75 single-family homes now under construction by his company in Williamsburg, Va. The development is the state’s first zero-energy ready home community.
It may also be the first community in America that must be experienced to be believed.
Start with daylight. “It’s sunny outside and you look out towards the window. You notice the expected dust particles are missing. The sunbeam is clear and dust-free,” explains Epstein, founder and president of Health E Community Enterprises. It’s just the first of many subtle sustainability and wellness wonders incorporated into Walnut Farm homes.
There is one marvel no one will overlook: The utility bill is guaranteed to average out at just $1.50 a day over the course of a year. Epstein knows most home buyers don’t geek-out over sustainability, though. To the contrary, “They’re not interested in a HERS or SEER rating or R- or U-values. That’s numbers overdose. They relate to personal experience,” Epstein says.
9.5% Builder Bonus
A recent North Carolina study determined high-performance homes now command a 9.5 percent dollar dividend over other new homes. “A builder always looks at the bottom line using proven products without warranty issues,” he says.
Epstein can pinpoint nearly to the day when the gloves came off for high-performance home builders. “The playing field didn’t level until the government removed the 30 percent geothermal tax credit. That’s when everyone rushed into the market with multistage HVAC compressors. ERVs (energy recover ventilators) got smarter too. We now have the technology to build the home of the future today,” he says.
High Value, High Performance
At Walnut Farm, that future-is-now technology includes:
- Advanced framing techniques, cellulose insulation, two-by-six wall framing, thermal break sheathing panels
- Solar-ready construction with pre-wiring, enhanced roof trusses, and dedicated roof area
- Building information modeling (BIM) pre-planned construction
- Next-generation HVAC systems powered by groundbreaking Tranquility by Trane technology
Epstein singles out Trane for special recognition because “… the product is that good.” Take the air handler, for example. “Before Trane, I had to control noise with cellulose. Now the unit is naturally quiet. The compressor outside is quiet too. Conversations by the air compressor aren’t impaired. Little things like that make a huge difference,” Epstein says.
As for building code, “I don’t worry about it,” Epstein says. “The homes we build are way above current code. I build toward what I know should be the 2025 code.”
Interestingly, that forward thinking has little impact on price – Walnut Farm starts in the high $300s, competitive for the market.
To demonstrate the community’s comfort and wellness edge, Epstein plans to open one of his model homes for overnight stays. “The house is cleaner. The air is crisper, clearer. There are no comfort or breathing issues. Customers need to experience it for themselves.”
“Yes, dreams and reality not only touch, they come true,” Epstein says.