Recently we took the trip to Oakland, CA to visit a Habitat for Humanity East Bay Project of particular interest for its pairing of energy-efficient homes with families in need of housing. What was once a deemed by the EPA and the Department of Toxic Substances as a blighted property due to its history as a battery salvage yard has become a sunny neighborhood haven for children to play and families to grow together. It was no small feat remediating some 300,000 cubic yards of soil and bringing in clean fill, but with buildable real estate and housing scarce, the effort is sure to improve more than just the site itself as happy families move into homes that they have taken part in building.

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sustainable design, green design, habitat for humanity, pg&e, pacific gas and electric, social housing, sustainable architecture, oakland bay area

Edes Avenue, was developed in two phases with Phase A executed by architect Gary Struthers and Phase B executed by the office of Michael Pyatok. At the time of our visit 26 buildings in the 54-home development had been completed, and we were able to see many of the green features up close while the other homes were literally being built before us. PG&E volunteers scurried about with tools in hand, assembling the homes as part of the PG&E Community Volunteer Program that they organize four times per year. In a separate effort, PG&E’s Solar Habitat Program provided grants of $15,000 per home for the 1.8kW – 2kW solar system and Sunnyboy dual directional invertor, resulting in an estimated $9/mo. utility bill for 2-bdroom homes, and under $15/mo. for 3-4 bedroom homes.

sustainable design, green design, habitat for humanity, pg&e, pacific gas and electric, social housing, sustainable architecture, oakland bay area

We were also impressed to find so many other volunteer efforts taking part in this project, clearly showing the importance of grants and volunteer programs aimed at this kind of housing! The Lowe’s Corporation sponsored Habitat’s Women Build Program, through which 500 hours of building was facilitated by women who want to help our their communities and learn construction skills. Habitat also facilitated qualifying families to put time into building their own home as well, addressing the issue of labor costs and educating the families about the process of building their own green home.

The project as a whole is a certified LEED Neighborhood Development, and 6 of the homes are being certified by the LEED for Homes Affordable Housing Program while 3 of those homes are certified at a LEED-H Gold Level. All of the homes are certified with Build It Green’s Green Point Rated Program.

It’s worth noting that when we inquired about how much FSC Certified wood was used throughout the project, (some 40% of all wood framing), we learned that due to the settlement of a class action lawsuit between the Forestry Stewardship Council and a Canada Softwood Lumber Company, Canada must provide FSC certified lumber to affordable housing projects. An exercise of environmental and social justice, if you will?

Some of the green features are really more common sense than cutting edge, such as the double-thick mass concrete foundation for thermal insulation and the exposed stained concrete floor on the first floor, which cuts down on floor finish costs and eliminating the dilemma of finding affordable healthy floor finishes. The concrete has 40% fly ash content, making it more durable and less energy intensive to create. The homes are designed for passive heating and cooling and do not need air conditioning.

Habitat had a several value engineering strategies, such as placing the studs 24” on center instead of 16” and using oriented strand board and engineered headers, which overall used 25% less lumber. A raised heel truss and blown-in cellulous insulation bridges the thermal break that typically occurs in wood-frame construction between the roof truss and outer walls and replaces conventional fiberglass or urea-formaldehyde insulation. Milgard fiberglass windows and Rinnai on-demand hot water heaters are just a few more of the many green features, and the kitchens and bathrooms have marmoleum flooring. Fluorescent light fixtures are used throughout, though it should be noted that the need for lighting during the day is minimal.

But most notably, we noticed how positive the work environment was onsite and how ‘fresh’ the new houses smelled. All of the paints are blended woth no or low-VOC content, and the finishes throughout were carefully vetted for their durability and indoor air quality factors. The projects use no vinyl, no urea-formaldehyde in the cabinetry substrates, minimal use of carpet, and natural materials. What a concept – eliminate the source of odor, and you don’t have the odor!

+ Habitat for Humanity East Bay Project

+ PG&E’s Solar Habitat Program

All photos by Piper Kujac