Digging Deep

Nine swanky new town homes on the 1400 block of F Street have all the green features you could possibly dream up&emdash;and one that probably won’t pop into your head.

We really focused on energy savings and healthy living, says Bay Area-based developer Jeremy Drucker about his 9onF project. We’re not talking about saving the global environment. This is more about the health of your home and the health of your pocketbook. Designed by Sacramento’s Vrilakas Architects, the three-story homes clustered onto two downtown lots between 14th and 15th streets in the Mansion Flats neighborhood have modest footprints: 1,300 to 1,550 square feet. They have energy-efficient gas appliances, dual-pane windows, cabinetry made without formaldehyde, tankless water heaters and high-end kitchens that function like someone who cooks designed them. (That would be Drucker. I love to cook, he says.) Everything made from wood was harvested from a sustainable source, but here’s the kicker: All nine homes have a geothermal heating and air system; three combine it with an installed solar-energy system, and four offer a solar-energy system as an upgrade.

The geothermal is the most exciting feature to me, says Drucker, who also is an architect. He explains that the system circulates water underground in a sealed loop to a depth of 200 to 300 feet, where the temperature is relatively constant: 65 degrees Fahrenheit, more or less. In winter, the water absorbs warmth and brings it up to the unit. In summer, heat is collected at the surface and dissipated on the way down. Year-round, you’re bringing up 65- to 70-degree water and using that as a starting point, Drucker says. As a result, the home requires a lot less energy to heat or cool.

Savings on a monthly bill can be substantial, says Paul Menard, a Sacramento architect and general contractor. He’s on the executive committee of the Environmental Council of Sacramento, which endorsed 9onF under the Smart Growth Leadership Recognition Program it co-sponsors with the Central Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Geothermal units can be approximately twice as efficient as the most efficient
conventional units, he says. The funny thing is, these homes got the green nod even before Drucker decided to go geothermal. We endorsed the project for several reasons, Menard says. For its density, location and for all of its excellent design features.

The geothermal energy systems not only made economic sense; they met Drucker’s aesthetic standards, too, he says. Imagine, nine homes on two downtown lots on a hot summer’s day using conventional systems. It would sound like you were at the airport. The geothermal units are within the houses and are virtually silent. I think it’s a great technology.