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This article was originally published in the May/June 1998 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.

 

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Home Energy Magazine Online May/June 1998


TRENDS

Affordable Housing: Efficient and Educational

Affordably priced townhouses in Chicago's Parkside Estates are built to high-performance specifications, allowing them to be heated with a small high-efficiency water heater and a fan coil.
One of the townhouses is a demonstration home that is used for classes and meetings in the craft and financing of low-energy housing. At this meeting, people involved with the center discuss energy-efficient mortgages.
Housing cannot be truly affordable unless it is affordable to live in. A new low-income housing development in Chicago, called Parkside Estates, uses energy-saving technologies to lower operating costs without increasing purchase price. The development's model home is also an office, meeting space, and training center, where low-energy technologies are demonstrated to the public and local contractors learn how to build truly affordable homes. This Affordable Energy Home Center opened in spring 1997, bridging the historically wide gap between sustainable and affordable housing.

So far, 14 of the planned 89 units in Parkside Estates have been built. These energy-efficient single-family homes are in the Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago's West Side. Over the past 30 years, Garfield Park has been challenged by a 40% unemployment rate, deteriorating infrastructure, a high dropout rate, and residential and business flight. It is currently a focused area for comprehensive development under a local home ownership initiative called the Chicago Partners in the American Dream. This initiative emphasizes access to public transportation, defensible space, income diversity, energy efficiency, and environmental improvements.

Parkside Estates is being built by a consortium that includes the Chicago Department of Housing, Commonwealth Edison, Argonne National Laboratory, and the U.S. Department of Energy. The general contractor was Perry Bigelow, a nationally renowned builder of energy-efficient homes (see Perry Bigelow: Energy Efficiency Maestro, HE Mar/Apr '94, p. 13). Tying them together is Bethel New Life, a Christian community development corporation that has developed over 1,200 units of affordable housing in West Garfield Park. Together, these institutions seek to create livable-wage jobs and environmentally sustainable businesses in this low-income community. In many low-income communities, residents are faced with a choice between polluting jobs and no jobs at all. This project aims to generate good jobs that do not create unnecessary pollution.

The Affordable Energy Home Center demonstrates energy-efficient technologies and includes contractor training aids. It features wall cutouts that reveal insulation materials and techniques, and it has a computer workstation to train contractors in Home Energy Rating System (HERS) software and the use of Internet resources. The center has hosted workshops in the art and science of new construction and rehabilitation, featuring instruction from John Katrakis and Paul Knight (author of Chicago Apartments Get New Lease on Life, HE Mar/Apr '97, p. 23). Staff at the center also provide technical assistance to contractors interested in creating jobs for community residents. Most importantly, the center gives housing groups an example of effective, low-cost techniques that save energy and increase comfort.

Instructors emphasizes the whole-house approach to construction, investing in conservation measures that pay back through lower utility bills, and using sustainable construction products wherever possible. Since the center opened, two sessions of classes have been held for general contractors. The first session focused on new construction; the second on the rehabilitation of existing housing. In addition, the center has been used for classes on the Illinois HERS in conjuction with the state's Department of Commerce and Community Affairs and for classes in environmentally safe housing in collaboration with Wright College. To date, over 60 people have been trained in formal courses at the center.

Innovation for Conservation The sidewalls in the development have both R-13 fiberglass batts in the wall cavities and R-7 rigid board insulation behind the exterior siding. This is a substantial increase over the level of insulation in most affordable homes. Careful air sealing has always been a hallmark of Bigelow homes. The completed center has 650 CFM air leakage at 50 Pascals (CFM50) or 5.2 air changes per hour (ACH); the estimated natural infiltration is 45 CFM or .36 ACH.

A sealed-combustion water heater also provides space heat, saving space, energy costs, and purchase cost. Future units may incorporate solar water heating, further lowering energy bills.

Although the use of floor joist spaces as hot-air ducts is controversial, they were used in this house. Only joists between the first and second floor were used, so that duct losses would not leave the thermal envelope. Furthermore, the joist plenums were lined with drywall and all joints were foamed. Bigelow makes a practice of placing a tilted piece of drywall at the end of the duct path to direct air up or down to the vent. This tilted piece is carefully foamed or caulked to ensure that air doesn't get to the exterior walls.

The demo house received a HERS rating of 89.7. Typical ratings for new construction in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago are between 72 and 75.

Knowledge to the People Bigelow built Parkfield Estates to contribute to a healthy, sustainable community in West Garfield Park. When families visit the center, local college students or the development's sales agent show them the importance of energy efficiency and its benefits. They give visitors pamphlets describing what individuals can do to reduce wasteful energy use in their homes. They also encourage visitors to practice energy conservation.

The importance of Parkside Estates --and of its demo home--is not just local. It is worldwide. The energy-efficient technologies and techniques demonstrated in the center show how low-income communities can play a role in the international effort to reduce greenhouse gas production.

--James Cavallo and Trinette Britt

James Cavallo is manager of the Existing Buildings Efficiency Research Program at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois. Trinette Britt is vice president for housing and community development at Bethel New Life Community Development Corporation in the West Garfield neighborhood of Chicago.
 

 


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