Category: small houses

16
Jan
2018

green home design closes the wealth gap in the US

Sustainable homes may seem like a luxury, but green design solutions can help close the wealth gap in the United States. For any potential homeowner, and particularly important for the low-income housing market, green affordable homes lower electricity and repair bills helping to achieve both environmental and economic sustainability.

Homeownership has been linked to a wide variety of social and economic benefits, including better mental health, neighborhood connectivity, and wealth accumulation. But the risks of homeownership are different for low-income households than other income brackets. Low-income homeowners are more likely to have to pay for repairs or maintenance costs that are beyond their budget. Lower-income households also pay a higher share of their income towards electricity bills than middle or high-income households.

Well-designed, environmentally-friendly and affordable homes can help make buying a good investment, no matter your income level.

When Charlottesville VA | Asheville NC architects hays+ewing design studio [heds] designed and planned a ten-home green affordable home development, we reserved two of the homes for Habitat for Humanity. Two families were selected by Habitat as the new home owners. Both were immigrants – one family had moved here from the Philippines and had co-habitated in a small apartment with a relative for seven years. The other family was from Afghanistan. This family had lost their husband/father and their home on the same day.

As the architects for the two homes, we focused on a few green affordable home solutions: keeping energy and maintenance costs low while using low-cost materials. We super-insulated the houses, making sure they would keep the warmth in during the winter and the heat out during the summer. We optimized for passive solar too, which meant shading out unwanted summer sun but allowing sunshine to penetrate the houses in colder months. Finally, we used Hardiepanel, which requires little upkeep, for the house siding, so the long-term maintenance costs would be low.

We also thought about what it would take for the residents to thrive in their new home. We created a common courtyard to foster community. We also convinced Habitat to frame an opening for a future stair to a basement so the families could rent their daylit, insulated basement and thereby subsidize their income. Through thoughtful design and incorporation of green affordable home best practices, hays+ewing design studio [heds] is helping these families find economic stability in their new adoptive city of Charlottesville.low income housing virginia architects

In addition to the two Habitat for Humanity homes, we also designed a single-family, spec home on land we owned in the same community. We wanted the house to be sustainable but also affordable – the home sold before framing was even completed, a nice testament to the appeal of the home.

Spec homes are rarely designed sustainably. For, instance the better developer might integrate a “flash and batt” approach to insulating the walls, which means using 2” of spray foam insulation with batt insulation on top. This helps to reduce air displacement but there are still losses where the cold air is transferred at the wall framing. For this project heds architects used 5” of spray foam insulation in combination with an insulated plywood on the exterior. The insulated plywood thus acts as a break between the cold air and the wall framing to prevent the thermal bridging. You can see this strategy, along with our use of SIPS panels, solar hot water heating, and passive solar strategies in the diagram below.
virginia architects green strategies

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This 2000 square-foot home was affordable despite its ambitions. It won a Virginia Society of the AIA Award of Excellence and a jurist praised the project as “boots on the ground” sustainability in the spec housing market.

As these two projects highlight, sustainable best practices make closing the wealth gap possible by lessening the risks low-income home-buyers face. Having both economic and environmental sustainability doesn’t have to be hard.

Co-written by Allison Ewing and Emily Hays

13
Oct
2016

In pursuit of happiness – the question of size and architecture

In November of 2014 I wrote about the Not so Big Apartment and of Gary Chang’s clever Swiss army knife style apartment that transforms into 24 different spaces.   I admired the inventiveness of Cheng’s project and the notion of living well in a small setting.

The topic of size comes up a lot at architectural conferences. The issue is an important one for obvious reasons – bigger homes require more energy to heat and cool and more energy goes into the construction materials. Clients however aren’t always so interested in the notion of doing with less. That’s not surprising in the US, home to the super-sized Big Mac and it’s cousin the McMansion.

At HEDS we think big, from the perspective of living well, is beside the point –size has very little to do with the qualities that foster a sense of well-being and happiness. Size is what builders promote in the absence of good design. This is size over substance thinking – size is a false prize.

We share our clients’ goal that our designs should contribute to their happiness and well-being. In pursuit of their happiness, we promote more substantive qualities such as homes that bring richness through CLEVER ideas. Other qualities we pursue in our designs: FUN, COMMUNITY at all levels (between siblings, within the family, with neighbors and the larger community), a connection with NATURE, and last but not least, COOL.

In pursuit of COOL: The Exbury Egg by Pad Studio, Spud Group and Stephen Turner.

In pursuit of COOL: The Exbury Egg by Pad Studio, Spud Group and Stephen Turner.

Children's room

In pursuit of FUN and COMMUNITY. This kids room has a shared loft. An art wall exhibits the children’s masks. A window between the children’s rooms fosters community between siblings. When small these children held hands between the window and have grown up to be close friends. Woolen Mills House by HEDS.

Dogtrot House

In Pursuit of Nature: A captured outdoor space brings nature into the daily living for this home’s occupants. The space is used for sitting and dining during the spring, summer and fall. Dogtrot House by HEDS. Photo by Prakash Patel.

25
Nov
2014

the not so big apartment

Nature has more to teach us on size: Scientists are observing radical changes in body size in countless mammals, birds, insects, flowers… as a result of climate change. The arctic fox, adapting to a reduction in food supply, is getting smaller, allowing the population size to remain stable.

Hong Kong presents an interesting corollary to this problem of population density relative to habitat size.  How to live well in a small setting.  This is a pressing question and the architect Gary Chang posits an intriguing answer.  His 330 square foot Hong Kong living quarters, the apartment equivalent to the Swiss army knife, transforms into 24 different spaces: wall of books slides away to reveal a linen closet, which in turn slides away to reveal a soaker bath, a bed folds down over the soaker bath to transform into sleeping quarters and so forth. What I love about Chang’s idea is that a room is only a room when you’re in it; when you’re not cooking, the kitchen disappears behind the wardrobe where you slip into a smoking jacket. Clever man.

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