Homes being built in new downtown include efficiency, renewable energy features

GAYS MILLS — Warm weather signals the start of construction season in Wisconsin, and the buildings going up in Gays Mills are cause for celebration. Not only are they creating a new downtown away from the floodplain, they meet high energy efficiency standards, setting a strong foundation for the community’s future.

After the devastating floods of 2007 and 2008, Gays Mills residents developed a recovery plan that includes energy efficiency and other sustainability goals. New residential buildings will meet the top Energy Star efficiency standard and have solar hot water. The homes are also designed to maximize natural light and be “solar ready,” with roofs oriented to accommodate solar electric panels.

“Energy efficiency is a win-win for the consumer and the planet,” said Maura Otis, Gays Mills librarian and the co-chair of the village’s long-range planning committee. “I can’t think of anyone who might feel that energy conservation is a bad idea, especially from a rural area.”

Otis has been involved throughout the recovery process. She was the acting village clerk when the August 2007 flood hit. The second flood, in June 2008, damaged the library. Repair work closed the library, one of only three in Crawford County, for a month. “It was the second flood that kicked me into high gear, trying to solve these problems,” Otis said.

Ritch Stevenson, a local business owner and co-chair of the planning committee, shares Otis’ enthusiasm for energy efficiency.

“Energy efficiency is absolutely essential,” said Stevenson, founder and president of Building Automation Products, Inc (BAPI). “There are a lot of things we already know about increasing efficiency, with lighting, insulation and harvesting natural light. Anyone can easily reduce their energy bills with these solutions.”

Energy issues are of particular interest to Stevenson, whose company produces sensors for commercial energy management systems. BAPI currently has 75 full-time employees, with plans to expand. Stevenson hopes that some of his future employees will live in Gays Mills’ new energy efficient homes.

“It’s inspiring to see Gays Mills residents, many of whom lost homes in the floods, strongly supporting energy efficiency,” said Diane Farsetta, energy efficiency coordinator at Clean Wisconsin. “Their efficiency guidelines will benefit the community for decades to come.”

“Part of the reason why we live in Gays Mills is for the gorgeous environment, so we need to take care of it,” said Otis. “Energy efficiency is an old idea that makes sense. It’s old enough that some people don’t remember it.”