Lessons Learned

Cost: The most important lesson the developers learned through this project was that they could build their homes to EarthCraft certification standards without spending an enormous amount of money. If Atlanta Habitat, with its tight budgets and reliance on volunteer labor, could do it, anyone could. Achieving EarthCraft certification cost an additional $2,180 per house. (Thanks to donations and sponsor support, the Atlanta Habitat affiliate paid only $1,603 of the $2,180 additional cost per house.) Southface has calculated that homeowners on this street save an average of $217 annually in heating, cooling, and water heating expenses. Over the life of a thirty-year mortgage, this will amount to a savings of $6,510—all for a cost of $2,180.

When subsequent homes were built in 2004, the added

EarthCraft certification cost decreased to only $310 per house. The difference was partially due to the fact that Atlanta Habitat and Southface had agreed to certain upgrades for the pilot partnership that were not included in subsequent homes. Georgia's energy code has also improved, now requiring more energy-efficient windows (identical to those required by EarthCraft standards) and a higher seasonal and energy efficiency rating (SEER) for air conditioners.

The Street Where Dreams Come True pilot project allowed Habitat Atlanta to determine which materials and techniques offered the highest return in terms of sustain-ability, energy conservation, and durability. Strategies and materials that cost more but only slightly improved energy efficiency, health, or resource conservation were eliminated. For example, Atlanta Habitat would have liked to purchase air-conditioning equipment with a higher SEER (a SEER of 12 was used), but to have done so would have been cost-prohibitive. Instead, they focused on smaller actions able to be carried out by volunteers, such as using more caulking to accomplish air sealing, and installing a sill seal, a vapor barrier in the crawl space, and expandable foam around all doors and windows. They would also have liked to have added radiant barrier decking on the roof, but this, too, was cost-prohibitive.

Materials: Since the EarthCraft certification program focused somewhat more on reducing energy use than on sustainably sourced or recycled materials, energy efficiency measures received the most attention. The project team did investigate using sustainably certified lumber, but found it to be prohibitively expensive because it was not available from a local supplier at that time. As more green or sustainable materials have appeared on the market, the EarthCraft criteria have ratcheted up over the years to reflect additional choices. Additionally, Southface is working with the U.S. Green Building Council's new Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes rating system to ensure a good interface between the programs.1

Education of Volunteers and Subcontractors:

Education is a strong component of Atlanta Habitat's program, as the organization depends on a labor force comprised mainly of volunteers and homebuyers. Because Atlanta Habitat set a goal of building 100-percent EarthCraft-certified homes two years after this pilot project, it was important that requirements for certification can be implemented using volunteer labor. According to Ray Maynard, Atlanta Habitat discovered that "it was easy to teach our volunteer labor force how to do many of the tasks required to gain certification." Many volunteers were interested in learning about the different materials and methods required for an EarthCraft home, and many reported plans to use EarthCraft criteria in the future when purchasing or renovating their own homes.

One area that required constant education and monitor-

"The Street Where Dreams Come True showed us that we could do it. . . that we had the expertise and ability to make green building happen."

Ray Maynard director of construction, Atlanta Habitat for Humanity ing was grinding construction waste on site. Initially it proved challenging to get staff, subcontractors, and volunteers to consistently separate materials. However, Maynard says that "it was well worth it for the amount we saved in trucking and landfill charges. We particularly wanted all the wood waste to be ground for mulching. You can imagine how unsatisfactory it would be to have concrete blocks ground at the same time as the wood." Another issue was persuading subcontractors to try new products or techniques to meet EarthCraft criteria. They were sometimes reluctant to do so, and at times Atlanta Habitat staff simply had to insist that they meet the guidelines. In particular, the

HVAC subcontractors had to be repeatedly reminded to correctly air-seal the joints in their ductwork. This requirement was reinforced by the fact that subcontractors would not receive final payment for their work if a house did not pass its ductwork exam (required as part of certification) as the cost of each test would be deducted from their payment. Maynard also notes that it was important to do sealing during the framing stage because it would be too difficult to find leaks later, once drywall was already up. (Southface now tests for leaks before insulation is installed.)

Education of Residents: During construction, homeowners learned firsthand about the green materials and techniques that would make their homes more efficient to operate. Each new homeowner participated in a one-and-a-half-hour walkthrough to review maintenance and energy efficiency issues, including insulation, the HVAC system, the water heater, and the importance of cleaning the filters for the furnace and dryer. Habitat homeowners are required to take an additional home maintenance class in which these features are reviewed, and tips are provided on items such as thermostat controls, fluorescent lightbulbs, water conservation, and appropriate water heater settings. Atlanta Habitat staff has found that encouraging habitual behaviors to improve energy efficiency requires a process of continuous education. For example, the filters in the HVAC unit must be changed regularly, or else the equipment could be damaged. Including regular reminders in homebuyer publications ensures that such regular maintenance is more likely to happen.

In addition to providing manuals on home maintenance, Atlanta Habitat recently developed a handout highlighting the features that earned EarthCraft certification, including tips for conserving energy and money in the home.

Another resident education issue pertained to the trees—both those that had been newly planted and those that had been carefully preserved on-site. Atlanta Habitat staff found that homeowners often preferred a home site without trees, because they feared the trees would fall on the house. This issue has required education on the benefits of trees in terms of natural shading and cooling, as well as monitoring to ensure that trees are not cut down. Owners are also encouraged to periodically check for and remove dead branches for safety reasons.

Participation and EarthCraft Certification: Atlanta Habitat learned that the tasks necessary to achieve certification were actually not difficult to carry out with a volunteer labor force. One exciting aspect of this project was that because Habitat projects rely on volunteer labor, numerous people besides future homeowners learned about EarthCraft certification and green building techniques.

Maynard reported that "volunteers tell us that they enjoy learning what it takes to make homes more energy-efficient. They can then use the techniques learned at Atlanta Habitat on their own homes. So the EarthCraft partnership works well for both our homebuyers and volunteers. Homebuyers benefit not only from learning energy-efficient construction techniques, but also from lower monthly utility bills."

Looking Forward: Even though the cost differential for green materials is decreasing steadily, Atlanta Habitat has not been able to include a number of green building measures in homes built after the Street Where Dreams Come True pilot project. A remaining concern is ensuring that each extra dollar to improve one home's sustainability is a dollar that is not diverted from creating a home for another deserving family. Another challenge is that many materials are donated by corporations or local suppliers, which creates a vast cost differential between the donated standard material and a more sustainable choice. For example, paint is typically donated, which has precluded the affiliate from continuing to use zero-volatile-organic-compounds (zero-VOC) paint. Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) were donated by GE, keeping this upgrade off the balance sheet of the project. However, the replacement cost of CFLs has kept Atlanta Habitat from using them in subsequent projects.

Habitat for Humanity has a decentralized, affiliate-focused structure, which makes it difficult to institute an across-the-board transition to green building. Since the majority of fundraising for home construction is done locally, the decision to go green is the role and responsibility of the individual affiliates. In addition to Atlanta Habitat, numerous other motivated Habitat affiliates around the country are incorporating green measures that are location-and project-specific. The New York City affiliate has been building to ENERGY STAR® standards for several years and its forthcoming 41-unit project in Brooklyn is designed to gain certification in the LEED for Homes pilot. The Denver Metro affiliate builds energy-efficient homes that use passive solar heating techniques and low-VOC paints, and some homes include photovoltaic panel or solar hot-water heating systems. Other affiliates, such as Tucson Habitat, have built homes that incorporate rammed earth and other green building strategies. Additionally, over fifty Habitat affiliates in the United States and Canada sell donated building materials through retail outlets called "Restores." Sales of such materials support the work of each store's sponsoring affiliate while reducing, reusing, and recycling building materials.

Habitat for Humanity International has also formed a donation partnership with Whirlpool Corporation to make ENERGY STAR appliances available to all affiliates and is exploring additional partnerships to help make the use of energy-efficient and green products standard practice in all homes built through the Habitat organization.

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