Last month, the Front Porch team attended the Habitat for Humanity International 2022 Affiliate Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. In collaboration with two of our long-time field test partners, Front Porch Initiative presented work from those partnerships in conference sessions. The Front Porch team also hosted a booth with our research sponsor Fannie Mae to share our housing affordability research with attendees visiting the exhibit hall. Members of the Fannie Mae Disaster Recovery & Rebuilding team encouraged passers-by to stop and learn about our work, showed off the prototype models, and, and fielded questions about the pilot investigating sweat equity valuation.
Mark Grantham, Executive Director of Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity (AOHFH); David Hinson, CADC Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research; and Betsy Farrell Garcia presented ongoing research on high performance housing affordability. In 2018 and 2019, AOHFH constructed two of the Buster’s House prototypes in Opelika to beyond-code energy standards and a resilience standard. Energy consumption data from those houses, as well as a third AOHFH house built to local code, is being collected and evaluated relative to the construction details, construction cost, and usage predicted by energy models. Conclusions drawn from the collected data informs choices about where investments in improved performance produce the most return on investment. The engaged and knowledgeable audience eagerly shared valuable feedback from their experience building to high-performance standards and welcomed the findings on where best to invest in upgrades that return savings on energy performance.
With Carmen Smith, Executive Director of Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity (CAHFH), and Darwin Gilmore, Dean of Workforce and Economic Development for Chipola College, Mackenzie Stagg presented an innovative collaboration born out of a shared interest in increasing equitable access to high-performance housing in a rural community. CAHFH is currently building four Front Porch Product Line houses on a site in Marianna, Florida, a town still recovering from Hurricane Michael more than two years after the storm. Front Porch initiative supplied the designs for the homes and has provided technical assistance during the project’s development and construction. Students from the Chipola College Building Construction Technology program supplement volunteer labor while earning clock-hour credit toward a degree and construction certification. These high-performance, resilient houses will increase equitable housing access, facilitate continued disaster recovery efforts, and grow the skilled workforce needed locally. Affiliates attending the session participated enthusiastically and displayed great interest in building similar partnerships in their area.
Front Porch Initiative connected with many mission-aligned Habitat affiliates interested in expanding equitable, affordable homeownership while in Atlanta, and we hope to establish new partnerships with organizations across the country. We appreciate the Fannie Mae Disaster Recovery & Rebuilding team’s invaluable presence on the exhibit floor. Together with our partners’ incredible dedication to collaboration, we continue to reach a wide audience for the work of Rural Studio.
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.
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.