Making It a Point to Go Green

March 10, 2007
March/April 2007
A version of this article appears in the March/April 2007 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more articles about Habitat for Humanity

The San Francisco Bay Area is notorious for its high housing prices, and many families find themselves priced out of homeownership. Since 1988, East Bay Habitat for Humanity (EBHFH) has worked to reverse this trend by constructing over 100 affordable homes that families with limited incomes can buy. 

While building affordably is an important goal for Habitat for Humanity, building in an environmentally sustainable manner has also become important to the organization (see “The Little House That Could,” HE Nov/Dec ’06, p. 24). For the past five years, EBHFH has utilized green building practices in its affordable homes.  At the end of last year, EBHFH took this commitment to green building one step further by working with Alameda County’s green rating program, as described below.

In 2002, EBHFH tackled its first green building project, in the Fruitvale neighborhood of East Oakland. The organization constructed four two-story town houses that used sustainable and recycled building materials, and included both passive-solar features and PV. During construction, 90% of unused building materials were recycled.  The homes’ modular framing used a layout based on 24-inch centers, which eliminated 30% of the framing material typically used. In addition, all of the framing lumber was Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified. All of the green construction techniques were simple and teachable, since EBHFH relies on volunteer labor to keep costs down.

This project was so successful that EBHFH expanded its green building project with Freeda Court, a 22-home community in Livermore. For this project, EBHFH worked closely with GreenPoint Rated, an independent rating program run through Alameda County’s Build it Green program. GreenPoint Rated evaluates homes in the categories of energy efficiency, resource conservation, indoor air quality, water conservation, and community. Based on these categories, it determines a home’s GreenPoint score. If the score is over 50, the home qualifies as GreenPoint rated. All homes are inspected by independent raters.

At an awards ceremony held in December 2006, Freeda Court was recognized as one of the first East Bay communities to win a GreenPoint rating.  At the ceremony, EBHFH also announced that all new projects that it builds  in the East Bay will be GreenPoint rated from now on. This commitment goes a long way toward demonstrating that green building is not beyond the reach of low-income home buyers.

“I see this new GreenPoint Rated designation as a validation of the hard work of everyone involved,” says Janice Jensen, executive director of EBHFH. “We have proven that you don’t have to be rich or famous to build green.”

Green features at the Freeda Court community include PV systems, Energy Star appliances, recycled-content materials, and careful reuse or recycling of construction waste. The community was inspected by an independent GreenPoint rater in fall 2006, earning 95 points.

“Green Building is so often misunderstood,” says Brian Gitt, executive director of Build It Green. “People think it has to cost more or you have to be wealthy or elite to afford it. The truth is, the people who need green building the most are those who need to maintain a low cost of homeownership. This partnership between Habitat and GreenPoint Rated shows that building green is cost-effective, affordable, and accessible for everyone.”

—Elka Karl
Elka Karl is an associate editor of Home Energy magazine.

For more information:
To learn more about the GreenPoint rating system, go to

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