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Montana Hotel Gains New Life as Efficient Housing

January 01, 2005
January/February 2005
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2005 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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        The Acme Hotel in downtown Billings, Montana, which was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places, has been renovated into a 19-unit multifamily housing complex for low-income families. The studio, single, or two-bedroom apartments will rent for between $300 and $500 a month, including utilities.
        The hotel has been renovated by the nonprofit group homeWORD, which uses innovative and sustainable methods to create housing in Montana.“We love putting tax credits and sustainable and affordable housing together to make great things,” says Heather McMilin, homeWORD’s project manager. “Reusing an old building is the best way of recycling. It all meshes together with our mission.”
        Built in 1911, the Acme building has been used as a theater, bar, hotel, and retail site, but it has been vacant for the last two decades. In its current incarnation, the building houses 19 households that earn 50% or less of the median income in Billings, which is approximately $35,000.
        The building had its grand opening on August 31, 2004, with representatives from Rebuild America and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality present. Billings residents listened to a presentation explaining the Acme’s history, sustainable-design features, and affordability before touring the renovated Acme building. Tenants were scheduled to move in by mid-October.
        Energy efficiency and sustainabledesign features include an 18 kW PV system, which is the largest system in Montana.homeWORD estimates that the PV system will reduce CO2 by 531,360 lb annually.The system uses net metering, which allows it to feed surplus power into the grid and take credit for that in its power purchases from the grid.
        Some aspects of the renovation project were a challenge, says Betsy Hands,community outreach coordinator at homeWORD.“Sometimes the requirements for historical preservation conflict with the tax credit and accessibility requirements,” says Hands. “For instance, providing elevator access is sometimes an issue.”
        During construction, contractors were also required to follow a waste management plan. For instance, plaster was composted rather than being taken to a landfill, and the sinks and radiators in each housing unit were taken to a nonprofit organization in Missoula that recycles building materials.
        In addition,wooden floorboards were salvaged, treated for water damage, and refinished.The Acme’s 8 ft x 6 1/2 ft windows are now low-e.To adhere to historical building standards, the windows are wood framed. Cabinets in the apartments are made of wheatboard. The carpet is chlorine-free, nontoxic, and made of recycled materials.All of the light bulbs throughout the apartment are CFLs.homeWORD also ensured that building materials throughout the Acme were PVC-free.
        homeWORD, a leader in the affordable housing field, develops innovative approaches to join affordable housing with sustainable techniques. homeWORD’s goals include helping women build equity and control in their housing; building communities and empowering families; educating families through housing counseling; using resource- and energy-efficient construction methods (featuring local resources and sustainable development); promoting community-driven development designs; recognizing the importance of aesthetics in affordable living spaces; and hiring disenfranchised labor.

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