Rural Studio is offering four house prototypes to our Field Test Partners for a series of pilot projects. Through pilot projects, we will continue to refine the product line homes and the documents used to build them. We will also continue to integrate research performed by Rural Studio students to broaden accessibility options, provide greater resilience to extreme weather, and allow homeowners to age comfortably in place.
Product line home designs are currently available exclusively to our Field Test Partners. For more information on how to become a partner, see Partner With Us. More information is not yet available to the public, but you can get on the project update list by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or find more information in our FAQs.
Case Study: Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity House 66
In 2018, the Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity affiliate collaborated with Auburn University as part of the 20K Initiative. Expanding the research into the total cost of homeownership, this ‘beyond code’ home is constructed to high standards of energy performance and resilience to damage by severe storm events. Designed to meet both Passive House and FORTIFIED Gold standards, the house aims to help the 20K Initiative find the balance point between the initial cost of construction and lower operating costs that results in the best long-term solution for homeowners.
House 66 is the first of several homes to be constructed with extra attention to energy performance and resilience. Each home is constructed to a verifiable and certifiable standard, such as Passive House, Zero Energy Ready Homes, or EnergyStar. After each home is complete, its actual operating costs will be monitored and compared against the cost of incorporating these ‘beyond code’ features.
Major Focus Areas of Efficiency
House 66 is constructed to meet the requirements of the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS). PHIUS promotes ultra-high energy efficiency standards in residential and commercial buildings across the country. Though meeting the PHIUS standard raises the construction cost of a home, the homeowner will benefit from reduced energy costs year-round. Beyond conventional building codes, PHIUS focuses on five topics:
- Super-insulated building envelope
- Tight building envelope
- Active ventilation
- High-performance windows
- Energy-efficient technology
The house also meets the FORTIFIED Gold standards, as verified by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS). FORTIFIED criteria vary per the hazards of a particular locale. House 66 was designed and constructed to meet the program’s High Wind & Hail standards. Policies in the state of Alabama mandate that houses which attain the FORTIFIED designation receive a discount on their homeowner’s insurance. Beyond conventional building codes, FORTIFIED for High Winds & Hail focuses on three general topics:
- Secured & sealed roof deck
- Braced gable ends & anchor attached structures
- Continuous load path
The energy usage and costs of the homes are currently being measured to ensure that actual performance meets the predicted outcomes determined by computer-generated modeling. Based on our model, we are predicting an annual energy savings of 60-75%. We are also adding small photovoltaic (PV) array (solar panels) for the house, meaning that most of the home’s energy needs can be generated on-site.
It is policy in Alabama that FORTIFIED certified homes are able to receive homeowners insurance discounts. The discount is taken on the high wind and hail hazard of insurance; the overall savings have some variation per insurer. In addition to the insurance discount, FORTIFIED homes have been shown to appraise on average 7% higher than an equivalent non-FORTIFIED home. Lastly, the increased resilience of the homes will provide our homeowners with peace of mind that their homes are less likely to be damaged during a storm event.
Preliminary modeling and cost analysis indicate that the savings in monthly energy and insurance costs are great enough to offset the higher monthly mortgage payment required to build the higher-performing home. As more data is gathered, we will be able to verify that actual costs align with the modeling. Further tests with less stringent energy and residence standards will also inform this cost-benefit research.
Benefits to Habitat for Humanity Chapters
Through the collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, we have seen several benefits to integrating the 20K Initiative homes into the organization’s existing delivery framework:
- Expand client base. Many affiliates have designs for larger (3-4 bedroom) homes, which work well for a variety of family situations. However, an increasing number of affiliates recognize that there is also a need for 1 to 2-bedroom homes in many of our communities. By offering designs for smaller homes, the 20K Initiative can help Habitat for Humanity chapters serve the needs of individuals or small families.
- Leverage “non-conforming” parcels. With their small footprint, the 20K Initiative homes are able to utilize lots of unconventional size or shape. This allows houses to be constructed on sites that would otherwise be considered unbuildable.
- Deliver higher-performing homes. The 20K Initiative is currently developing home prototypes that feature “beyond code” considerations in energy and structural performance. Though these features are more expensive from a “first cost” (construction cost) perspective, they provide monthly savings in energy bills and—potentially—homeowners insurance. Since Habitat for Humanity is involved with the financing, construction, and mortgage management of the houses, Habitat is uniquely positioned to consider the total cost of homeownership (first cost plus operations and maintenance costs).
Linear one-bedroom, one-bathroom house with a large, open living space and a screened front porch.
1 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom
Interior Area: 504 GSF
Porch Area: 128 SF
One-bedroom, one-bathroom house with a central front porch flanked by living and bedroom wings.
1 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom
Interior Area: 536 GSF
Porch Area: 100 SF
Square one-bedroom, one-bathroom house with minimal circulation spaces and a large corner porch.
1 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom
Interior Area: 523 GSF
Porch Area: 204 SF
Two-bedroom, one-bathroom house with a generous living area, an inset front porch, and a small bonus room.
2 Bedrooms, 1 Bathroom
Interior Area: 956 GSF
Porch Area: 150 SF