Ithaca’s Climate Showcase Communities Break Ground

Future residents of the Aurora Pocket Neighborhood gather around a model of the wall assembly for their homes, which is designed to achieve Passivhaus standards of superinsulation with zero thermal bridging or air infiltration. Builder-Developer Sue Cosentini is seated in the foreground.

Two of Ithaca’s Climate Showcase Communities will break ground in late June: the TREE neighborhood at EcoVillage at Ithaca and the Aurora Pocket Neighborhood (APN) project in downtown Ithaca. TREE will add 25 new homes and 15 apartments and the Aurora Pocket Neighborhood will add 3 new homes to the community. Full build-out for both communities is expected to be completed by September 2013. These two residential developments are designed to achieve Tompkins County’s 2050 goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions today—using existing and emerging technologies and practices. The homes in the TREE and APN neighborhoods are designed to be 80 percent more efficient than current residential buildings in the U.S.

Tompkins County, in partnership with EcoVillage, was awarded a federal grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to show how innovative, on-the-ground approaches can be used to create neighborhoods that enhance residents’ quality of life while using fewer resources. The EPA grant focuses on documenting EcoVillage’s innovative, successful methods of green building, mixed land-use planning, and community development, and applying those methods to more mainstream developments in a variety of settings.

“The EPA Climate Showcase Communities project grew out of an unexpected collaboration between folks in the community who were already doing this work,” said County Commissioner of Planning and Community Sustainability Ed Marx. “This federal grant provides us with the opportunity to elevate this work and communicate it to a broader audience. Our project is the only one focused on new residential development among the 50 EPA climate showcase communities nationwide,” Marx explained.

The Aurora Pocket Neighborhood is a project of New Earth Living LLC, and a collaboration between builder Sue Cosentini and designer Rob Morache. The mission of New Earth Living is to create a new model for living that fosters social connections, affordability, and a minimal ecological footprint. The APN site is at the corner of North Aurora and Marshall Streets in Ithaca, in an existing neighborhood. Homes will be arranged around a common courtyard with many raised vegetable beds and fruit and nut trees. This central courtyard will serve as a gathering place for residents and provide opportunities for social connection and home gardening.

“Co-housing is an absolutely brilliant model for living,” said Sue Cosentini. “I am committed to creating urban dwellings that support and foster connections with each other and the Earth,” Cosentini said. “There has never been a time that we needed to have connections of care, respect, and trust more than we do now.”

In their planning for the Aurora Pocket Neighborhood, Cosentini and Morache evaluated a number of space and domestic hot water heating systems. “We looked at it all: photovoltaic (PV) powered air source heat pumps, solar thermal, resistance electric, masonry heaters, geothermal, and lots of combinations thereof,” said Cosentini. “Where we landed is individual PV arrays for each house that will power the basic electrical needs and a district (shared by all the houses) bio-mass boiler,” she said. The hybrid system will consist of a series of accumulator tanks in each house that serve both the space heating and hot water heating needs. The tanks will be super-insulated so that the boiler fires as little as possible in both winter and summer. “This hybrid system is emblematic of our climate conditions and our existing incentive structure,” Cosentini explained.

“We’re using Passivhaus methodologies as our guiding principles,” said Cosentini. “We’ve been trying to incorporate elements of the Passivhaus design in an economical way, including the thermal break and triple pane window components.”

Learn more about the Aurora Pocket Neighborhood at

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