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WOLF LAKE -- The houses of Rieth Village are far from your average homes.
Their walls are insulated with ground-up newspaper.
Rainwater flushes the toilets.
And much of the electricity comes from a windmill in the back yard.
They seem to be a high-tech version of pre-historic living in balance with nature, and more and more people are interested in copying that environmentally friendly style.
Saturday afternoon, local residents got a chance to tour the three houses and perhaps get inspiration for their own projects.
"We didn't build the buildings for the primary purpose of being models, but we realize they will be," said Luke Gascho, executive director of the Merry Lea Environmental Center, who proudly led the tour after dedicating the buildings Saturday.
He's in charge of the village, which is owned and operated by Goshen College and functions as a practical training ground for Goshen College students in fields such as ornithology, environmental education and agroecology.
Other than providing housing for 32 students, the three new buildings are an inspiration to area residents looking for ideas on how to make their houses more energy-efficient.
"All of the buildings have 6-inch thick walls to provide greater insulation," Gascho said. "We also have triple-glazed windows. There's a gas-filled cavity in that, which helps create better insulation. When you put more windows in, you lose energy, so we wanted to have good insulation."
The white metal roofs also help, he said. Lighter roofs absorb less heat than darker ones, which lowers the need for cooling in the summer.
The village gets about 30 percent of its electricity from a windmill that produces 10 kilowatts of electricity. That's what it takes to run 100 light bulbs rated at 100 watts each.
Later this month, solar panels will be added, raising the amount of self-supplied electricity to 40 to 45 percent of the village's needs.
Rieth Village was designed to meet the highest standards of the United States Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. LEED buildings are rated in areas such as energy efficiency, water management, use of recycled materials and indoor air quality.
Rieth Village's first occupants will be Goshen College students enrolled in two May term courses, one in ornithology and one on environmental education for prospective teachers.
Locals will get a second opportunity to tour Rieth Village on Saturday, May 6, during Merry Lea's annual NatureFest. Gascho will offer guided tours at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Hiking trails at Merry Lea are open every day, but tours of the buildings need to be scheduled. To schedule a visit, call the center at (260) 799-5869.
You can see pictures of Rieth Village by visiting www.goshen.edu/merrylea and clicking on the link "Learn all about Rieth Village."