Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Affordable Green Housing

Jennifer Hoffman 2012

I recently had the pleasure/joy/bliss of attending the U.S. Green Building Council Make It Right lecture in Chicago presented by Jon Sader. Mr. Sader was the former Construction Director of The Make it Right Foundation, who developed a process to build affordable net-zero housing in New Orleans' hurricane ravaged Lower Ninth Ward. Mr. Sader shared what he learned from building 76 affordable LEED Platinum homes for less cost than a conventionally built home.  In fact 30% less - while also achieving a 40% HERS (Home Energy Rating System) reduction. This accomplishment was based solely on the buildings (smart/holistic/good/sustainable) design. Make It Affordable + Make It Green = Make It Right!

Mr. Sader started off his discussion by saying that our intention should not be to create just Net-Zero Energy Homes, but Net-Negative Energy Homes.  Period.  (I knew right then + there that this was going to be an extra-super-awesome lecture!).  He argued that this way you make enough energy to send back to the grid, while “compensating” for all of the existing inefficient buildings.  Instead of paying a utility bill - you make money off of being energy self-sufficient.  He further stated that this still means that you can build the house for less than a conventional property.

Mr. Sader emphasized how we as designers, architects, builders + engineers should all think of ourselves as healthcare workers because of the substantial impact the living spaces we design have on our clients health.  He discussed the impact of VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) + how cancer, asthma + other illnesses have skyrocketed as more plastics and new products (without long term testing) have been introduced into not only our environment, but also into our living spaces. This is not new information to me as an interior designer, but it is always greatly appreciated when it is acknowledged - because it matters! We spend 90% of our time indoors + Indoor Environmental Quality effects our health + safety.  He gave an example of one of his clients having to go to the emergency room at least 3 times a month due to severe asthma attacks.  However, once she moved into her new home, she hasn’t experienced one episode – in over 3 years!  He discussed how in the future there will be a building nutrition label - so that just like a box of cereal, you’ll know if you’re buying junk or something healthy for you, the environment + your wallet.

Mr. Sader described how hurricane Katrina fundamentally changed New Orleans forever in just 24 hours + how the earthquake in Haiti killed 230,000 people in only 35 seconds.  He expressed that the fundamental process of rebuilding a city and a nation are the same. The Mission is as follows: 

1. Catalyst 
2. Safe/Healthy 
3. Cradle to Cradle 
4. High Design

Within these fundamentals, Mr. Sader stressed the importance of creating a standard method that allows flexibility, can be easily replicated + is affordable.  When it comes to choices - the products should be available nationwide. The process (modular/stick/SIP) + implementation when it comes to construction should be streamlined. He suggested using local resources only when it makes the most sense.  Above and beyond the LEED process, Mr. Sader emphasized the importance of using Cradle-to-Cradle products for the overall result. Avoiding “green redundancy” when systems can counteract each other is also essential.  He learned that choosing Advanced-framing techniques over Traditional/Conventional-framing can decrease the use of lumber by 30%, of which (of course) the contractors charged 30% more.  However, Mr. Sader was eventually able to promote competitive bidding, which brought the cost down.

Mr. Sader said that what he ultimately learned throughout the rebuilding process is that the following 4 main Methodologies determined the success of a project:

1. Process Innovation
2. Product Innovation
3. Education Innovation
4. Social Innovation

The information Mr. Sader shared was invaluable + the project houses were quite impressive considering all of the strict building parameters + tight budgets of each project house.  For further information, please check out some of our previous posts regarding Affordable + Public Interest Architecture.  

Thank you!

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