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Habitat For Humanity’s Many Paths To Energy Efficiency

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Shala Carlson is the editor of Habitat World, the flagship print and online publication of Habitat for Humanity International.

For Habitat for Humanity, sustainable — or “green” building — means creating healthy homes and communities that are less expensive to operate, more durable, and that conserve resources. It means doing everything possible to help families find better footing — not just for today, but for tomorrow as well.

The organization has established a standard that, by 2013, all Habitat homes in the United States will have at minimum an Energy Star rating. Many affiliates are already building to that standard and beyond. Innovative Habitat projects like Seattle’s House of the Immediate Future, Wisconsin’s Eco Village and Washington, DC’s Empowerhouse are expanding the idea of what many people think of when they think of affordable housing.

Habitat Washington DC’s Empowerhouse, the first Passive House in the District of Columbia

Habitat Washington DC’s Empowerhouse, the first Passive House in the District of Columbia, is just one recent example of how energy efficiency helps low-income homeowners.
Image Credit: Ashley Hartezell/Habitat for Humanity Washington DC

Special projects, however, aren’t the only way that Habitat is progressing toward more energy-efficient homes. Take Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, for example.

In 2009, Sadik El Ghazal and his family moved from a one-bedroom apartment into the first LEED-certified home built by the affiliate. In 2012, Habitat Metro Denver partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency on a pilot program to build the first affordable home in the country that was certified through three EPA programs: Energy Star Version 3, Indoor airPLUS, and WaterSense. Together the three programs ensure every aspect of a home is efficient and healthy, both for the environment and its inhabitants.

“The transition to that trio of programs was a natural progression for our affiliate,” says Habitat Metro Denver construction manager Mike Amoroso. “Those three programs speak directly to the needs of low-income families.”

Additional steps that Habitat Metro Denver takes to ensure energy efficiency in its homes include:

  • Compact fluorescent lightbulbs and Energy Star-rated appliances
  • 90-percent-efficient furnaces, low-flow toilets and tankless hot water heaters
  • Limited southern window exposure and floor vents placed in the home’s four corners — no exterior vent to leak cool air from the home, rather the vents allow cool air to settle into insulated and mechanically vented crawlspaces
  • A partnership with EverbuildPRO, a national program that helps construction professionals earn LEED accreditation while helping Habitat affiliates build LEED-certified homes at a lower cost
  • A partnership with GRID Alternatives, a California company that has partnered with several Habitat affiliates to provide solar panels for Habitat homes.

Why take all of these steps? Staff members estimate that these sorts of measures help save Habitat Metro Denver homeowners 30 to 40 percent on utility bills. What’s most important, Amoroso says, is that we “get to what really matters for our families.” In many cases, it’s going green that helps make that happen.

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