Sustainable – How, How Much

Sustainable Building… It doesn’t mean granite countertops.

…What is it?

Basically, “sustain” means “continue”. When we build “simple, decent, affordable” we would like these qualities to continue through the life of the home. This means building a house that is as affordable to maintain as it is to purchase. Energy efficiency ensures more affordable utility bills every month. Healthy indoor air in the home decreases money spent on respiratory illnesses and time spent out of work and school*. Accessibility features – that is, homes designed to accommodate limited mobility – are usable and comfortable through all stages and conditions of life. Sustainable Building just means including features that will continue affordability for HFH partner families for the long-term of their home.

…How do you do it?

Attention to detail. Habitat for Humanity is good at that. Most of what makes a home “sustainable” has to do with quality construction. Air sealing – get rid of the holes. We pay to heat our air here, let’s keep it inside. Seal carefully around windows and doors, make sure the holes in top plates – for wires and plumbing – are foamed up. And remember, fiberglass insulation slows heat but does NOT stop air – so foam up the rim joist! Material efficiency – raise the roof! A 12″ truss heal allows for more insulation, meaning a more efficient blanket. A 92% efficient furnace means 92 cents of every heating dollar ends up as heat – as opposed to an 80% efficient furnace, where you’ll loose 20 cents on every dollar up the chimney. Water drainage – do your best to make sure the house stays dry. Step- and kick-out-flashing keep the roof water off the deck and walls. Layer the waterproofing like you would your rain gear – overlap from top to bottom to keep the water out of your boots. Accessibility – consider widening your hallways to 3’7″ and design a 5′ turn space in your bathroom. Many affiliates have done so without extra cost, and HFHI does recommend this. Hopefully partner families will be in the house for decades, so think about making it useful for them through all those years. Tested specs – don’t reinvent the wheel. Check out the Enterprise Green Communities Specifications for baseline recommendations (requirements if you want Impact Fund $$).

…How much does it cost?

$2,000. That’s the average extra cost to build to a sustainable building standard in Minnesota if an affiliate has not done so before, and most affiliates spend much less (if anything at all). We’re not talking about top-of-the-line windows and bamboo floors. As mentioned, much of “sustainable building” is careful construction. Check THIS LINK to see what your build might cost.

*National Center for Healthy Housing, A New Prescription for Asthma Suffers: Healthier Homes. 

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