Bay-Waveland Habitat for Humanity was proud to have one of their homes named 2011 Affordable Green Project by the National Association of Home Builders at their annual Green Building Conference in Salt Lake City this year. It is an affirmation of the affiliate’s commitment to build homes that are attractive, comfortable, energy-efficient, environmentally responsible AND affordable.
Habitat typically partners with families in need that don’t qualify for a traditional mortgage loan. While client households usually have fixed or low incomes, they’ve generally been successful at paying their bills and managing their debt. Many are single-parent families, retired or disabled persons, or working-class families who don’t earn enough to qualify for a house.
In Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, many of Habitat’s families were also victims of Hurricane Katrina. The 2005 storm devastated the community, damaging or destroying seventy percent of the businesses and housing stock. The 130 mile per hour winds and 30 foot storm surge claimed the homes, property and lives of many residents. Six years later, the community continues to recover from this event.
It was in this context that Habitat began its work in Hancock County, Mississippi in 2006. All around, there was an urgent need for housing. Grants for house construction and mortgage buy-down assistance came from a number of state, federal, corporate, non-profit and individual sources. The affiliate very quickly set a construction pace of approximately forty new house starts per year. More than 7,000 volunteers joined hands with families, staff and sub-contractors to build over 185 houses in five years.
In 2009, Bay-Waveland Habitat’s accomplishments were recognized by Habitat for Humanity International when they were named them Affiliate of the Year. In 2010 they were awarded with same recognition again!
From the beginning, the affiliate needed to establish Habitat’s reputation in the community as a builder of quality housing. With the loss of many historic houses and structures, Gulf Coast communities were legitimately concerned that the design and quality of new construction might not measure up to what was lost. Bay-Waveland Habitat’s houses had to be attractive, durable and appropriate. Rumors and misinformation about Habitat’s program, families and houses further deepened the affiliate’s challenge in the community. The affiliate was determined that in addition to meeting the shelter needs of their families, the houses would be recognized as appropriate and valued additions to the community.
Bay-Waveland Habitat’s director of construction, Mark Scott, came with more than twenty-seven years’ experience in construction. Prior to his post at Bay-Waveland Habitat, Mark served as Construction Director for the Habitat affiliate in Jackson, Mississippi.
“A lot of green building is just smart building,” commented Mark. “We‘ve been building energy-efficient, durable houses for years.”
From the start, Bay-Waveland Habitat’s houses included “green” materials like cement board siding, radiant edge roof sheathing, windstorm exterior sheathing, r-38 attic insulation, and low VOC paints.
In 2009, Wendy McDonald, Bay-Waveland Habitat’s executive director, challenged the affiliate to make a deeper commitment to green building. “We had a unique opportunity to build strong, beautiful, affordable housing while serving as catalysts for green building throughout the Gulf Coast. It was the right thing to do.”
The affiliate committed to building all its new houses to the green standards of three certification bodies: U.S. Green Building Council, National Association of Home Builders Research Center, and Enterprise Green Communities.
Bay-Waveland Habitat’s first green certified house was scored at the Emerald level by the NAHB Research Center in late 2009. In 2010, the house went on to claim second place in Mississippi Home Corporation’s statewide green building competition Growing a Greener Mississippi. It was also named Affordable Project of the Year by the National Association of Home Builders.
“This first green certified house was a laboratory for us,” remarked Mark Scott. “It was a unique design in which we brought together a wide range of green building materials and methods to test them in a real-world setting.”
The house included materials such as bluwood, cement board siding, fly-ash concrete, Galvalume roofing, open cell spray foam insulation, Energy Star appliances, a SEER 16 HVAC unit, an energy recovery ventilator, low volume water fixtures, low VOC paints and adhesives, hardwood floors and Energy Star rated windows. Green construction methods included advanced framing, solar passive design, rainwater collection and irrigation system, extensive storm water retention plan, construction waste management and recycling plan and low impact construction methods.
A detailed report on the construction of Bay-Waveland Habitat’s award-winning Emerald house can be downloaded at: http://www.habitatbw.org/Documents/Habitat for Humanity Bay model greenHouse_e.pdf
Construction of the Emerald house also catalyzed a culture of green building that swept throughout the organization.
“Building green is just a natural part of our process now,” comments Mark. “Our staff wouldn’t even consider building a house that wasn’t up to green certification standards.”
Many of the materials and methods used in Bay-Waveland’s first green certified house remain in use today. Currently, the affiliate has more than sixty houses that are either green certified or in the process of being certified. Two houses have received Emerald certifications, and one has received a LEED Platinum certification. Most of the rest have received gold certifications.
The decision to “go green” is not without a price. The upgrades required for green certification add approximately $8,000 to the overall cost of the house. Partnerships have played a vital role in defraying these expenses.
“It has taken a great number of corporate, government, non-profit and individual partnerships to make these green built houses possible,” comments Wendy. “But the extra effort has been worthwhile,” she adds. “We all know that green building makes sense from an environmental perspective; and with significantly lower energy bills, it also makes good financial sense for our families.”
On average, families in Bay-Waveland Habitat’s new homes are reporting electricity bills ranging from $60 to $100 per month. Many of these new homeowners come from poorly insulated, inefficient houses, apartments and trailers where energy costs were significantly higher. The monthly savings they experience in their new homes can have an immediate and sometimes life-changing impact. Between their low monthly mortgage payment (approximately $550 per month) and their energy savings, many of these families have been able to invest in education, save for retirement, and pursue other options to better their lives.
Wendy McDonald and Mark Scott need no further confirmation.: “If you can build attractive, healthy, durable, energy-efficient houses that are also affordable,” Wendy asks, “why wouldn’t you?”
Written by: David Walker - Director of Communications, Habitat for Humanity Bay-Waveland Area