When town officials in Blacksburg, Va., began planning the Roanoke-Lee Street affordable housing project, they wanted to find a developer that would not be just another faceless builder.
“They wanted us to be a model development that would show the community that these are the possibilities, and this is how well affordable housing can be designed,” recalls Colin Arnold, vice president of architecture for Christiansburg, Va.–based Community Housing Partners (CHP), the developer behind the neighborhood of 14 Energy Star–qualified homes. “We set affordable goals, we set goals to become part of the community, and we set goals to measure the sustainable performance of these dwellings.”
With one glance at the development’s packed trophy case and the positive response of its neighbors, it’s clear CHP has met those missions and then some, creating a community that bucks preconceived notions about what affordable housing looks like while showcasing obtainable energy savings.
The $3.3 million development’s seven duplexes achieved those objectives by including products and features that provide long-term, measurable energy savings, conscious design, and a focus on homeowner education and follow-up.
The two- to three-bedroom units, which range in size from 1,001 square feet to 1,317 square feet, were made available to low- to moderate-income (earning at or below 80% of the area’s median income) first-time home buyers. To offset cost for the project, CHP landed funding from the Blacksburg Community Development Block Grant, The Home Depot Foundation, NeighborWorks America, Enterprise Green Communities, Housing Assistance Council Green Fund, HAC SHOP, and funding from the Virginia Housing Development Authority, the Virginia Department of Housing & Community Development, and the Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises.
An effort was made to capture the architectural features of the surrounding neighborhood and also give the duplexes a single-family-home appearance. “There are two front doors, but if you are driving by real quickly, you would think of it as a single-family house,” Arnold notes. This perceived appearance “helps break down those stereotypes of less-than-desirable misconceptions of affordable housing.”
CHP staff, the Town of Blacksburg, and some local residents photographed neighborhood design features they liked, and project architects worked many of those elements into the houses, including metal roofs, front porches, staggered or varied setbacks, and rail driveways.
Located near Blacksburg’s downtown, the Roanoke-Lee Street development is just a few blocks away from restaurants, shopping, a movie theater, and other cultural and civic amenities. In addition, the campus of Virginia Tech is less than a mile away.
The homes’ affordability and sustainability carry over long after the buyers take ownership, as each of the homes is Energy Star qualified with a focus on the building envelope, HVAC, water heating, lighting, and appliances.
Among the products helping to fulfill these goals are Whirlpool Energy Star–rated appliances and low-E, Energy Star–rated Series 200 vinyl-clad windows from Andersen, and Energy Star–rated vinyl windows from United. Other details include advanced framing techniques, cellulose insulation, 15-SEER heat pumps, and CFLs.
Each unit was tested by Residential Energy Services Network–certified technicians to ensure performance levels. While Community Housing Partners projected performance for each home would be 30% more efficient than the average (translating into energy use of $77 a month), the builder has exceeded those estimates. “After the first six months, the average energy usage was $66,” notes Arnold.
And because CHP tracks energy use data for all its projects, it will closely follow the performance of the homes. “We are hopeful the new data will continue to support this trend,” Arnold says.
“A lot of effort and investments in energy efficiency in the project have a direct benefit to the residents there,” he adds. “Their utility bills are quite a bit less, and it has been rewarding to follow up on some of the utility performance.”
Follow-up such as this is key to the community’s long-term plan to show the residents and their neighbors the effects of high-performance building, and to learn which sustainable methods are most effective for the builder and the consumer.
It’s an ideal that applies to the homeowners as well. Community Housing Partners provided pre- and post-purchase counseling and education to home buyers, covering topics such as personal finance, credit, budgeting, foreclosure prevention, and home maintenance.
Each buyer received an owner’s operation and maintenance manual that includes information and warranties on all appliances and mechanical systems. Additionally, each owner has a “Guide to Green Manual,” which contains information on how to maintain the green features inside and outside the home.
“This manual describes the green features in the home and the proper care and maintenance necessary to maximize function, environmental benefits, and sustainability,” Arnold says. “We discuss the use and benefits of each feature, from the simple compact fluorescent bulb to the environmental impact of storm-water management through a thoughtfully designed and installed rain garden.”
The results so far have been stellar inside and outside the community. Among the project’s many acknowledgements are the 2007 Energy Star Award for Excellence in Energy-Efficient Affordable Housing, The Home Depot Foundation’s Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing Built Responsibly, a 2007 Best in American Living/HUD Secretary’s Award for Excellence, and a 2008 Silver Energy Value Housing Award in the Affordable Home/Cold Climate category.
The town also has embraced the development. Nola Elliot, who lives next door to the community, says Roanoke-Lee Street has “enhanced the neighborhood.”
“I wish there were more areas like it in town,” Elliot says. “The homes are very nice, and I’m very happy with the neighbors.”
Robb Crocker is former senior editor, online for EcoHome.
PROFILE: Colin Arnold
Colin Arnold, the 2007 recipient of the Virginia Housing Coalition Housing Leadership Award for Designer/Architect, says he believes in using third-party verification to give “credibility to what we are doing.” But more importantly, his firm, CHP, strongly believes in proper follow-through after it receives the testing results.
“Even with our best intentions, we find out after testing that the building envelope or the ductwork system wasn’t quite as we specified it,” Arnold explains. “You say you’re doing something, but you haven’t really followed through on that. We do our best to follow up on the ongoing life cycle of our projects. We are continuously trying to gather utility information to capture the success or perhaps the challenges we still have, and bring them back to the design process of the next project we have.”
The company embraces eco-friendly products, such as pervious paving, rain gardens, bamboo flooring, and cork, then assesses their performance to determine if they are a fit for future projects.
“We continue to try out new products and new materials,” he notes. “And there is always varied success.”
Rain gardens around the community, an alternative to a retention pond, capture water runoff from roofs. Climate-appropriate plants were used, and the gardens were placed among existing trees.
Navastone open pavers filled with pea gravel or grass let water filter into soil. The company was recently acquired by Hanson Hardscape. 800.265.6496. www.hansonhardscapes.com
Energy Star–qualified kitchen appliances from Whirlpool include a refrigerator with upfront controls and SpillGuard glass shelves. The houses also include Whirlpool’s Duet Sport laundry pair; the Energy Star washer uses half the water and energy as top-load units. 800.253.3977. www.whirlpool.com
Finishes include Sherwin-Williams’ no-VOC Harmony latex paint for all interior walls. The low-odor coating system meets or exceeds Green Seal criteria, comes in eggshell, flat, and semi-gloss, and dries within one hour. 800.524.5979. www.sherwin-williams.com
WaterSense–certified Aquia dual-flush toilets from Toto operate at either 1.6 or 0.9 gpf. The units feature a push-button flush option and an elongated skirted design. 888.295.8134. www.totousa.com
James Hardie’s fiber-cement siding offers durability and low maintenance. HardiePlank (first floor) carries a 50-year transferable limited warranty; HardieShingle (second floor) is available with a 30-year transferable limited warranty. 888.542.7343. www.jameshardie.com
The homes’ Energy Star–rated 4200 Series single-hung vinyl windows from United Window & Door include low-E glass and Intercept Warm Edge spacers. 800.848.4550. www.unitedwindowmfg.com
American Standard’s Heritage 14 Energy Star–qualified heat pump is rated up to 15 SEER. The unit uses R410A refrigerant. Spine Fin technology—thousands of tiny spines bonded to continuous aluminum refrigerant tubing—provides for stronger, more efficient cooling coils, says the firm. 903.581.3300. www.americanstandardair.com
Purchased from a local supplier, the homes' 50-gallon rain barrels are gravity-fed with a built-in spigot. Overflow water is captured in the community's storm-water management rainwater gardens.