Condo Complex

Stuart Lee Longman is a young Connecticut developer with one overriding goal: to provide living space so satisfying that it ''makes the owners reluctant to leave, even for a vacation, let alone pack up for good.''

So when 16 acres of land came up for sale here--open, sunny land surrounded by a wild salt marsh with a tidal creek that drew the eye naturally down to the sea--he grabbed it.

The exquisite setting would go a long way toward helping him meet his principal goal; its open nature also made it possible to meet another more recently established construction goal - siting buildings so they take advantage of natural heating and cooling situations provided by nature.

Working with natural forces rather than simply ignoring them at huge costs in energy consumption is what he terms ''responsible construction; the only way to go in this day and age.''

So, his Sea View condominiums, facing south--or within a few degrees of true south - are warmed in winter by the slanting rays of the sun, yet are cut off from the hot rays of the summer sun by an overhanging roof. They are also cooled during the hot months by breezes off the water which enter the units through ground-floor windows and exit at the roof line.

Natural convection, as well as pressure from any breeze, helps with this ventilation.

So successful are the completed units operating that the developer is guaranteeing annual heating costs of $300 or less for the first two seasons-- ''or I make up the difference,'' he proclaims.

The ''condo craze,'' as some refer to the trend in condominium housing, began on the West Coast in the 1960s and has mushroomed in the Northeast as well in the past 8 to 10 years.

A condominium attracts three groups of buyers:

* Young couples at the lower end of the cost range who see it as a way to get into housing. ''Starter homes'' is the popular term. These condominiums are generally converted apartments.

* Two-income young professional couples who tend to buy medium--and higher-cost units, generally buildings with some landscaped grounds and other amenities, such as swimming, tennis, sauna, and the like.

* Older couples moving out of the larger houses they no longer need and who tend to favor the higher-priced units as well.

The young professionals are invariably strapped with taxes and see property ownership with its attendant mortgage as a tax alleviator.

With both partners working, they have little time for upkeep. On weekends they prefer to relax and entertain without having to mow the lawn, weed the dahlia bed, clean out the gutters, or paint the kitchen door. In other words, they seek the satisfaction of home ownership with none of its attendant responsibilities.

With both partners working, they have little time for upkeep. On weekends they prefer to relax and entertain without having to mow the lawn, weed the dahlia bed, clean out the gutters, or paint the kitchen door. In other words, they seek the satisfaction of home ownership with none of its attendant responsibilities.

Condominium ownership, then, might be termed a new approach to living.

Older couples, both before and after retirement, also seek less responsibility in home ownership. They've ''done their bit'' in raising a family and want to get out of the house that reminds them of the four children that are no longer there. In selling the house that has appreciated in value over the years, it is also important to reinvest in a structure of similar value to avoid taxes.

But shelving personal responsibility in this manner always involves a cost.

It's called a ''common fee,'' the levy that pays for the amenities and the upkeep of the building. So let the buyer beware: If you are not athletically inclined, don't buy into the condominium where tennis, golf, squash, swimming, a gymnasium, and a whole lot more are included. You will get very little for your common fee if you have little wish to make use of the facilities.

Developer Longman sees a low common fee along with low energy costs as an important trend in future condominium construction. Mr. Longman's lone concession to athletic amenities is a swimming pool. Even nonswimmers periodically enjoy cooling off in a pool. Poolside, too, is the one place where neighbors who never see the inside of one another's homes will spend a pleasant time socializing.

Buyers can always join the local racket or golf club, Longman reasons. There's even a marina just a three-minute walk from Sea View.

Another saving comes in landscaping, with trees and shrubs which are largely indigenous to the area. Naturally adapted to the region, the climate satisfies their requirements with little need for much additional input from man. Fully half of the landscaping melds in with the wild; and in several places the salt marsh is being encouraged to grow into the development to remove any obvious demarcation between the development site and the wild.

Sea View would be classed in the lower-luxury range of condominiums, with individual units ranging from just under $100,000 to about twice that figure. Accompanying common fees range from $45 to $95 a month.

In fact, its principal contribution to the condominium industry is its solar orientation and accompanying low energy costs.

Including large windows in south-facing walls to allow the warming sun's rays to penetrate deep into the house during winter adds nothing to construction costs, Longman says. Nor does using the storage sheds to shelter the entrances from the cold north wind.

But widening the walls and roof to include heavy insulation and insulating the foundation do. Heavier construction, plus the addition of a solarium-greenhouse, has added 15 percent to the overall construction costs at Sea View--a small price, says Longman, for the long-term energy savings and living comfort that will accrue.

He estimates that the insulation and tight construction (air leaks cut to a minimum) are heat-conservation measures that reduce artificial heating needs by 35 percent. Add in the solar gains from the south-facing glass and solarium, along with the heat-storage capacity of the concrete slab, and the $300 guarantee for heating bills is readily understood. In fact, the initial guarantee was calculated at $350 until early performance figures suggested a further $50 could be trimmed off.

In the Longman view, energy savings go a long way toward reducing the negative effects of high mortgage interest rates.

Backup heating is provided by a heat pump and a fireplace insert with Heatilator, which draws in cool air from the floor, circulates it behind the firepalce, and expels warm air into the room just above the fireplace.

Air to feed the fire (coal or wood) is ducted in directly from outdoors so that no warm interior air is consumed. This cuts heat loss and also removes any possibility that too much oxygen is removed from the room. An avid fireplace user could cut even more off that projected $300 annual heating bill.

When I visited the condominiums recently, a chill February wind was blowing, making the 35-degree F. high for the day appear a whole lot colder than it actually was. Yet on sun power alone, on a fairly sunny but by no means cloud-free day, the temperature in the unit I stayed in was 66 degrees F. at 6 o'clock in the evening.

A bonus that comes with all solar construction is the light.

The bright light bathes all corners of the interior at Sea View, so that flowering plants, placed in the display units, remained blooming even during the daylight-short months of December and January.

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