Front Porch Initiative

Auburn Opelika Habitat Homes

A major goal of the Front Porch Initiative is to expand home ownership in areas outside Rural Studio’s service area of West Alabama. Recently, we collaborated with another studio within Auburn University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture (APLA) and the McWhorter School of Building Science (BSCI) as well as Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity to build two homes in Opelika, Alabama. The design of these two projects is based on 20K Buster’s Home. The homes for this collaboration were optimized for energy efficiency using different efficiency standards, which offers the opportunity to study two models of energy consumption. Additionally, both homes are designed to provide beyond-code resistance to damage from high winds and blowing rains.

View of a 20K/Front Porch home at sunset with the lights on
House 66 Dedication – Image by Matt Hall

The first house, dubbed House 66, is Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) certified, which requires homes to be super-insulated, minimize air leakage through a tight envelope, have high-efficiency windows and doors, active ventilation, and energy efficient equipment. The house was also built to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s FORTIFIED Home – High Wind standard, which certifies that a home’s construction strengthens it against severe weather. House 66 is the first home in Alabama to receive PHIUS certification and, as far as we know, the only house in the country ever certified both PHIUS and FORTIFIED Gold. The second house, House 68, is built to Zero Energy Ready Homes (ZERH) and FORTIFIED standards. Though not as stringent as PHIUS, ZERH also focuses on energy efficiency and preparing the home to adapt to renewable energy sources as they become available. Both House 66 and House 68 have a HERS rating of 38 (learn more about the HERS index here), but our energy models predict that it will cost approximately $100 more in energy costs per year to operate House 68. These costs can further offset by the installation of a photovoltaic (PV) panels, also known as solar panels, which generate energy. A PV system has already been installed at House 66, where excess energy produced is fed into the local energy grid.

Each house is also outfitted with monitoring devices to collect data about energy usage at the level of the individual circuit. David Hinson of APLA is co-leading the project and explains the research: “We will monitor the actual operating costs […] and compare the operating savings against the cost of incorporating these special features. Our aim is to find the balance point between the initial cost of constructing the home and lower operating costs that results in the best long-term solution for the families.” Along with Hinson, Mike Hosey of BSCI and Mackenzie Stagg of the Front Porch Initiative have received funding to analyze the data collected at the homes. Analysis of this data will help us better understand which changes to the building design have the largest impacts on energy consumption.

Habitat House 68 exterior
House 68 Dedication

Awards:

At the 2019 PHIUS Passive House Projects Competition, House 66 was awarded Winner of the Affordable Category.

Recent Press:

Auburn University 2019 Press Release: Building Better Architects: Auburn University partnership with Habitat for Humanity gives architecture students experiential learning opportunities

Auburn University 2018 Press Release: Auburn University students design, build energy efficient Habitat for Humanity Home

WLTZ News: Auburn University Students Help Design Energy Efficient Habitat for Humanity Homes

Opelika-Auburn News: Opelika takes step toward renewable energy

Learn more about the Front Porch Initiative here.

Welcome to the Front Porch Initiative Blog!

The Habitat product line house
Image by Matt Hall

The Front Porch Initiative seeks to expand the reach and impact of the ongoing research, design, and construction work at Rural Studio. Capitalizing on over 25 years of work in West Alabama, our goal is to use the deep knowledge of quality home building developed by students in Hale County to promote quality home ownership in other underresourced rural areas.

Over the last 15 years of focused research and development on rural housing, student teams have continually built on the previous work of their peers, with an increasing focus on how each home is designed for both construction affordability and optimized performance. The result is a line of homes that are designed to be durable, efficient, resilient, and healthy. The Initiative aims to offer quality housing products in communities across the South and Appalachia (climatic regions most amenable to the 20K Home design) as well as offer our knowledge and technical assistance to housing providers more broadly.

“Good housing is a fundamental human right. It improves health, economies, and communities. Our goal is to provide access to beautiful, dignified, equity-building homes for our rural communities.”

– Andrew Freear, Rural Studio Director

The Initiative is collaborating with a range of government, NGO, and industry partners to tackle the issue of the lack of housing that is affordable, both through the construction of high-performance homes and by lowering the financial barriers to home ownership, including mortgage requirements, insurance costs, zoning, and permitting challenges.

The Initiative currently has a variety of projects and collaborations underway across the Southeast, and we look forward to regularly sharing more details about our partners and continued progress over the coming weeks, months, and years. Stay tuned here to follow along!

Learn more about the Front Porch Initiative here.