Waterville Valley's Green Boom The last Development in a Historic New England Resort Town Experiences a Building Boom

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Waterville Valley NH is experiencing a boom in building at a time when real estate housing elsewhere is flat. It may be the valley's early adoption of "smart growth"--development that provides walkable access to necessities without sacrificing the small-town feel that baby boomers demand.

Flash forward to the early 2000s

The town of Waterville Valley, New Hampshire has always been an outdoor enthusiast's paradise. Set in the heart of the White Mountains, the town's 500 acres of private land are surrounded by 700,000 acres of National Forest, making it essentially an "inland island." World-class skiing, tennis, golf, a pedestrian-friendly Town Square, free public transportation, and a host of other amenities make it the kind of place that families return to year after year for vacations. Eventually, many of those families decide to make it their permanent home.

Andy and Nancy Knight are typical. Andy first came to Waterville Valley Resort on a hiking trip in the 1970s, then became a skier, and eventually got a job in a local ski shop. "Flash forward to the early 2000s," he says. Now married, Andy and Nancy began bringing their own kids to the valley for ski weekends, and in 2003 purchased a small condominium there. (Condominium ownership seems to be a rite-of-passage for many Waterville Valley homeowners.) "We found we were spending all our time up here and hated going home," says Knight.

The Knights decided to build a year-round home at Moose Run--a mountainside development containing the last single-family homesites to be developed in Waterville Valley--and became part of a surprising building boom. Since the subdivision came to market in early 2006, 29 home sites at Moose Run have been sold and 13 high-end homes have been built, with four more currently under construction--a phenomenal build-out, especially considering the downturn in the economy. These days, there are only three lots left at Moose Run, making it perhaps the most successful single-family home development in the state.

Like the Knights, Barry Fish owned a condominium in Waterville Valley for years until deciding to build a home at Moose Run two years ago. Fish is enthusiastic about his new home. "I've probably got the best views in the valley," he says. He cites his 270 degree views of nearby Mounts Tecumseh and Osceola, views that are unencumbered by power, phone or cable lines. All utilities at Moose Run are buried, so as not to clutter up the magnificent views of the National Forest, thanks to which, "No one else is going to build nearby," says Fish. If you're looking for protection from encroachment, you can't do better than to be surrounded by 700,000 acres of National Forest.

Fish is so bullish about Moose Run that he also bought the lot next to his and he is having a spec house built there--one way to make sure you like your neighbor's home. "I felt the stock markets were not doing that well and I had some investment money, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone," Fish says. He's not alone; Waterville Valley has been named one of the top ten towns for second-home investments by MSN.com, and appreciation rates of valley properties have been higher than the national average.

Fish and his Moose Run neighbors enjoy the benefits of Waterville Valley Resort--easy access to amenities, recreational opportunities, no crime, and a peaceful, high quality style of life. "The whole town is a small community," says Fish. "It's a great place to live."

For a young development, Moose Run has established a sense of community quickly. "When we moved here, we didn't know anyone," says Andy Knight. Today, Knight is president of the Waterville Valley Foundation, which supports local organizations that enhance the valley's community life. "Around here, we get together with our neighbors, have dinner parties," says Moose Run homeowner Dan Cooney. "People here are down to earth."

A Green Boom
In keeping with Waterville Valley's long-standing commitment to conservation and stewardship, the homes at Moose Run show a distinct trend towards green building. "A lot of the people live in Waterville Valley for the pristine nature of the area," says builder Barry Van De Moere of BPV Contracting. "When they build a home, they carry that philosophy with them, from the design concept, right through to the final finish of the house."

Many of the Moose Run homes are Energy Star rated, with the maximum possible insulation, energy-efficient windows, doors, and appliances, and high-efficiency heating systems. The result? According to Andy Knight, his home is so tight, "We joke that you could heat the house with a candle."

Knight's home also features a geothermal heating system, an increasingly popular option at Moose Run. Geothermal systems draw water from deep in the ground--where it is at a constant temperature of around 52 degrees--and use that for home heating and cooling. While 52 degrees may not seem that warm, it takes a lot less energy to heat it to room temperature than starting with cold water. The Knights' system has a 47,000 BTU peak load. "That isn't very much for a big house," says Knight. "But because the house is so tight, we were able to downsize the equipment." And, he notes, smaller systems cost less to operate and install.

The biggest drawback to geothermal systems is the expense, but for homeowners at Moose Run, several factors have eased the burden. The government currently offers a 30% tax credit on the full cost of a geothermal system, and there are rebates offered by the NH Electric Co-Op (which provides electricity to Waterville Valley) for those who install a geothermal system. Combine those credits and rebates with greatly reduced fuel consumption, and geothermal systems begin to look very attractive. Although Barry Fish's home does not have a geothermal system, he plans to install one in the spec house he's building, and estimates that the system will pay for itself within five years.
Others at Moose Run have opted for high-efficiency propane heating systems rather than geothermal. "These systems are getting 94 to 95% efficiency," says Brian Blanchard, who built Barry Fish's home. According to Fish, his propane usage and electric costs are lower than they were in his 1,200-square foot condominium.

Another factor in the green building boom at Waterville Valley may be access to local building materials, which reduces the environmental effects of transporting materials long distances. "We try and buy as many products as we can locally," says Bob Wildes of ABODE Home Builders, who is using locally-milled wood for the tongue and groove flooring of a Moose Run home he's building. Local sourcing fits the spirit of Moose Run and Waterville Valley, which combines an appreciation for nature with support for the local economy.

How hard is it to go green when building a home in Waterville Valley? The builders at Moose Run agree that it's all about the homeowner. "We try to sit down with a client, get a feel for how they want to live, and show them all the different options for green construction that are available," says Barry Van De Moere. "Some of the systems are pricey, so the goal would be to incorporate as much as you can within your budget."

Fortunately, meeting a budget is getting easier as green building products enter the mainstream. "Green products are becoming very competitive," says builder Brian Blanchard. And while having an Energy Star home might have seemed like a high-end option at one time, that's becoming less and less the case. "A lot of the Energy Star techniques have become sort of routine," says Van De Moere. "They have been incorporated into our everyday techniques."

Green - the Spirit of Waterville Valley
So why is Waterville Valley experiencing such a boom in building at a time when housing elsewhere is flat? It may be the valley's early adoption of "smart growth"--development that provides walkable access to necessities without sacrificing the small-town feel that baby boomers hanker for. "For a small town, Waterville Valley has phenomenal services," says Andy Knight, ticking off such items as DSL, local cable, cell service and high-speed Internet access.

Services like that are making it possible for couples and families to choose Moose Run for their primary residence rather than simply a second home. "Of the owners I'm working with, both couples told me their ultimate goal is working out of their home office and living there full time," says builder Brian Blanchard.

And while smart growth in other areas is focused on urban settings, Waterville Valley offers the same amenities in a pristine natural environment where access to nature is literally at your doorstep. On a recent morning, Knight's 10-year-old daughter told him, "Dad, look out front." A fox had curled up on a bank in front of the house, groomed herself, and then took a nap. With that kind of experience, it's no wonder that green building has taken hold at Moose Run. "If you want to live in harmony with nature, it's your responsibility to minimize your impact," says Knight.

That spirit has been a part of Waterville Valley Resort from its earliest days, when people escaped from the cities and came to the area to hike, play golf, ski, and simply breathe the clean air. Even today, "You can't believe the difference in the air quality," says Brian Blanchard.

"Waterville Valley has always embraced a conservation-friendly approach to land use," says Bruce Regensburger, another Moose Run homeowner. "Now, I think there's a greater need and demand, if not a conscious effort to use every reasonable technique possible to get the most use out of the environment."

These days, stewardship of Waterville Valley is in the hands of the Waterville Company, developer of the valley's master plan. "We want to ensure that the Company's legacy of responsible development is carried on long after our tenure in the valley has ended," says Bill Cantlin, president of the Waterville Company.

The current boom in green building fits right in with that legacy. And though there was a time when contractors who understood green building were few and far between, that's no longer the case, says Cantlin. "Today, there are excellent, reputable, experienced contractors that can help people design and build their dream home."

Given the recent spate of building, however, it wouldn't pay to dream too long. As Dan Cooney notes, "Property is going quickly, so you better do it soon or there won't be any lots left."

For 40 years Waterville Valley, New Hampshire has been recognized as one of the best planned, family-oriented recreational communities in North America. Moose Run is a mixed-use development with the last single-family home sites in Waterville Valley, a 500-acre resort community surrounded by 700,000-acres of National Forest.

Learn more about Moose Run and other land opportunities at Waterville Valley by calling Waterville Valley Realty toll-free at 1-888-987-8333, or online at http://www.wvnh.com.

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