Marshall, North Carolina
Supporting its mission to increase high performance rural housing, Rural Studio’s Front Porch Initiative has partnered with the Community Housing Coalition of Madison County (CHCMC) in North Carolina. In 2022, the CHCMC secured funding to replace four substandard houses in their service area. The CHCMC has historically focused on the repair and rehabilitation of existing homes in their service area but recognized the opportunity to invest funding more sustainably through replacement housing. For the first of these projects, CHCMC chose to use a Rural Studio design, which will accommodate the challenging housing site. The site has both a restricted buildable area and a significant grade change.
The Sylvia’s House prototype was well suited for the narrow and steeply sloped rural site where an existing home—which remained in place during construction—and septic lines limited the buildable area. The new home overlooks a stream across the road and nestles into a hillside while maintaining driveway access to the existing home. The selection of finishes favored durable and low-maintenance materials. Access and space planning considered the future mobility needs of the client: in addition to the ramp at the front porch, grading at the rear porch will allow a zero-step entry. Inside a roll-in shower will accommodate aging-in-place. Where possible, the Rural Studio Front Porch Initiative team incorporated equipment and appliances from the client’s existing home to reduce construction costs.
Construction began in mid-February of 2023 with CHCMC serving as the general contractor with some subcontractor labor. On August 2, 2023, CHCMC had an open house for all the partners involved to see the home as it nears completion. This first ground-up build will serve as a demonstration home for the organization to expand and provide homes that are affordable, high-performing, and efficiently designed to accommodate the needs of their clients.
In addition to ENERGY STAR 3.1 (a national energy performance standard program), the Front Porch Initiative team elected to pursue a North Carolina state standard: Green Built Homes. This point-based standard resembles LEED for Homes, but with less intensive documentation requirements. The organization’s experience in weatherization has proved valuable in design discussions of air tightness and insulation, and this new construction project has served as a learning opportunity for the construction team, informing their understanding of beyond-code construction. We want to give a special shout out to Hunter Dendy of Eco-Sense in Asheville, NC. Hunter graciously donated his consulting services AND the cost of HERS and ENERGY STAR certifications for the new home.
As the first new construction project for an organization accustomed to housing repair work, this project has provided valuable lessons for CHCMC. Project development has highlighted the need for establishing clear expectations and communication with the client and for understanding the limitations of funding sources. For example, CHCMC learned that HUD funding precludes a deed restriction providing right of first refusal for the organization; furthermore, they recognize that some clients prefer to maintain the option of transferring a home to a relative or heir at default, potentially limiting the number of interested clients.
We are continuing our collaboration with CHCMC on future projects, helping to increase their capacity to deliver replacement homes in the community.
Asheville Citizen Times: “Madison housing organization breaks ground on replacement home program: ‘There’s hope again’” by Johnny Casey