Friday, September 26, 2008

The Affordable Zero-E Challenge:
Approaching Affordable Zero-Carbon Homes for All

Case for Action:
What's so right now: We now know that human activity, mainly the combustion of fossil fuels, is causing a greenhouse effect that is steadily increasing the earth’s temperature - global climate change – and we’re beginning to see the massive impacts on the planet and how we live. To address this problem, the building industry is undergoing a dramatic shift towards sustainability and achieving zero-carbon buildings by 2030, but much of the focus in the residential market has been on high-end custom, and more recently, (trendy) pre-fab or modular homes.
The predictable future if no action is taken: The building design and construction industry will approach the 2030 threshold for zero-carbon buildings short of the goal if we wait for affordable solutions to trickle down from the work being done with the top economic tier of home construction.
The way it could be: To have a real impact on global climate change, starting now, the solutions must be for everyone. If we seize this opportunity to create solutions from the base economic levels and draw them up, we step into a future where energy independence and social equity are the norm, rather than a luxury, and we leave a healthy, stable, diverse, sustainable planet for future generations to enjoy.

….as Bill McDonough says: “Negligence starts tomorrow.”

Statement of Intent:
The intent of the project is to show that sustainable near zero energy (or perhaps more accurately, zero carbon) homes can be made affordable, today.

The Project is to form a design committee comprised of several architects/designers, builders from HBA-WM, and the stakeholders from Habitat for Humanity. The design program will be based on a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom house, approximately 1,000 sq. feet, standard Habitat requirements. We will conduct an integrated design process, collaborating as a group to produce a complete design for a home as close to zero net energy (all fuels, not just electricity) as we can. The Homebuilders (HBA-WM) have requested that their NAHB Model Green Home Building Guideline be utilized as a framework, and I believe Energy-Star and possibly LEED certification could also be pursued.

The timeframe is aggressive, but achievable: I would like to have the Schematic Design complete by early December so we can complete Design Development and Construction Documents over the winter, ready for a late-spring build. I think we would conduct a series of short charrettes (with homework having been done before) to analyze the site, program, budget, energy issues, envelope issues and construction issues, zeroing in on a Preliminary Design Approach and ultimately a complete Schematic Design.

The primary goal in my mind, is exposing as many people as we can (read: community, market, future homebuyers, future workforce…) to the technologies, systems, materials, and design concepts and to demonstrate that beautiful, healthy, affordable, zero-energy homes and not a distant dream. I believe that consumers only need to know what works (real data, costs, benefits) and what to ask for, to begin to effect a significant shift in the home construction and renovation market.

To this end, I’m thinking about a Blog tracking the design and construction process, providing links to information, etc. I would also like to hold three open house events during construction, one upon completion for public exposure to the details and systems that make a difference. Various trainings for green building professionals could also be held as part of the build to provide an opportunity for professional development.

The design must be buildable. We want to encourage creativity and invention, but the design must be able to be built by a team of volunteers, some more experienced than others, over a period of weeks or months, on a budget of around $150,000. I've attached a document stripped from the Habitat (International) web site that should provide the basic background on their standard for homes.
Another possibility I see in this project is the potential to make a real contribution to the development and adoption of solutions through partnership and collaboration.

Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity has identified 3 potential sites and is excited about the community coming together for this project. The Western MA chapter of the AIA (WMAIA) is supporting the collaboration and will help us open the process to its members through direct design participation and critiques open to the membership, and the Homebuilders Association of Western MA (HBA-WM) is very pleased to participate and will support the process with builders on the design team. Further discussions will be held to maximize participation in and support of the construction of the home when the design is complete.

Other collaborators have expressed interest or been recommended such as HAP, CET and Porter and Chester Institute. I am open to any ideas for collaboration and support that will expose more people to the technologies and process. Please put me in touch with anyone you know that might be interested in collaborating or supporting the project, donating materials or equipment, would like to use the house build as a training opportunity, etc.

Jeremy M. Toal, AIA, LEED AP
Project Architect
Dietz & Company Architects, Inc.17 Hampden StreetSpringfield, MA 01103
(413) 733-6798 x 118
(413) 732-4385 Fax
Serving community values and client needs by shaping responsive architectural solutions.