Friday, December 07, 2007

Habitat: Affordable can be green

Portland Press Herald

A Portland subdivision aims to be earth-friendly, reasonably priced, and a model for builders.

December 7, 2007

An agency that has built about 50 affordable homes with
volunteer labor and donated materials is setting out to prove
that affordable homes can also be green homes.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland is about to build its
first traditional subdivision, a cluster of four single-family
houses at the end of a residential street in Portland's North
Deering neighborhood.

All of the homes will have energy-efficient designs, and
materials that are earth-friendly or recycled. At least two are
expected to be the first affordable homes in Maine to qualify as
green-certified, a stamp of approval that often equates to

"We're providing affordable houses to those who can least afford
electricity and oil, so it's a natural for us to go there," said the
chapter's executive director, Stephen Bolton.

Habitat hopes to help change the home market in the process.

So far, Maine homes that have earned LEED certification, which
stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, have
been priced well above the starter-home market. Perhaps the
best-known example is a five-bedroom home in Freeport that's
certified as the most environmentally friendly home in New
England. Its offering price was reduced recently from $1.1
million to $895,000.

Bolton and others insist that green doesn't have to mean

"If they can do it up at that end and we do it down here,
eventually it'll get to the middle," Bolton said. "When Henry Ford
was building cars, at the start (cars were) for the wealthy. When
he came up with the assembly line, he made it mainstream. It
has to go mainstream."

Environmentally friendly construction is a hot trend. But Habitat
for Humanity, a Christian nonprofit organization, is known for
putting families into healthful, decent, affordable homes, not
trendy ones.

The Portland-based Habitat chapter has built nearly 50 homes
around Cumberland County since 1985. It uses volunteers and
donations to build low-cost houses and sells the homes to
families at no profit. The families typically help build their own

The group started planning its first traditional subdivision
several years ago as a way to expand its impact and reduce its
costs. The idea to go green at the same time sprouted about a
year ago, as donated building supplies, both new and used,
started pouring into Habitat's ReStore. The retail outlet off Forest
Avenue is both a source of materials for Habitat homes and a
way to raise money for its projects.

"We didn't have access to this kind of stuff before," said Bolton.

Using recycled materials is one way to reduce the environmental
impact of new homes. LEED certification also is based on design,
energy efficiency, and the use of materials that are from local
sources and sustainably produced.

There are no requirements for expensive features like
photovoltaic panels or geothermal water heaters. The homes will
be heated with propane. They'll have such features as bamboo
flooring, recycled textile insulation and insulated concrete walls.

Habitat chapters across the country are now focusing on energy
efficiency to make sure homes remain affordable after they're
built. A small number of other Habitat chapters have built LEED-
certified homes, Bolton said.

The Portland subdivision is already permitted, and construction
is expected to start this winter.

The two LEED-certified homes will be sold to first-time home
buyers through a Maine State Housing Authority financing
program. The price will be capped at $190,000, and eligible
buyers can earn no more than $78,400 a year for a family of
three or more, according to the state agency.

By putting the houses on the market, Habitat hopes to make
them a showcase of affordable, green construction.

The group also expects to make a profit that it will use to help
finance construction of other homes.

The other two houses in the subdivision – as well as future
projects – will incorporate green materials and designs, but
won't necessarily be certified. Those homes will be built and sold
in the usual way – to families that help design and build them.

Habitat's experiment immediately was a hit with architects,
builders and interior designers, many of whom volunteered to
be on a special steering committee.

"I think the rap on green is, it's expensive, and what we're trying
to do is find some creative ways to build cheaply," said Dan
Kolbert, a Portland-based builder who co-chairs the steering
committee. "There's a lot of excitement. There's a lot of
architects, contractors, suppliers (helping). We're all very
interested in it."

Habitat will keep track of what the houses would cost to build if
it had to pay market rates for the labor and supplies.

Even those who aren't overseeing the project are eager to see it

Chris Briley, an architect and the founder of Green Design Studio
in Yarmouth, said he's confident that green homes don't have to
be any more expensive than other homes.

"I'm working on one right now that's aiming for market rate," he
said. The LEED-certified home will be built this winter or spring
near Back Cove in Portland, he said.

He wants to see Habitat succeed.

"What they do is affordable housing," he said. "If they can get a
LEED-certified affordable house, then it's kind of proof-of-
concept for everybody else."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

Copyright © 2007 Blethen Maine Newspapers

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