While Inhabitat usually showcases visually stunning or formally innovative buildings and designs, the importance of greening the common home is not lost on the Inhabiteam, our readers, or governmental organizations and NGO's. Green housing programs around the country teach green construction techniques and processes; in addition, training opportunities at the local level abound for building managers and supers. Various tax abatements and credits exist for the homeowner who weatherizes his or her home, or improves the energy efficiency or carbon footprint of his or her home. Through these programs and the popularization of certifications such as LEED, the sustainability movement has finally infiltrated the mainstream construction industry. It is in this spirit that the South Bay Energy Efficiency House, or SEED House, has been developed and constructed. This recently inaugurated, innovative facility is located on the Century Center for Economic Opportunity (CCEO) campus adjacent to LAX airport in Lennox, CA, and serves as an education and resource center for local residents and builders.
The SEED House is designed as a small residential building with a variety of spaces that will serve three important purposes; classroom space, practice space, and community outreach. A “green” instructional space with super insulated walls, energy efficient HVAC and lighting, advanced educational technologies, and environmentally considerate finish materials will host technical workshops for contractors, builders, and other interested parties. Students will take lessons learned in the classroom and apply them in controlled practice spaces; the SEED House serves as an example of typical Southern California residential construction to be used for hands-on training in “green” construction and residential upgrading.
Though a primary role of the facility is that of classroom and training facility for “green” building and construction trainings, perhaps its most important function is that of outreach tool. Several “green” projects in the US target middle to upper class individuals. The SEED House, however, is a project in a lower-income area targeting under-served communities, providing them with DIY information and resources for improving their homes, and access to professional training and important educational opportunities. Regularly scheduled community educational events teach local home owners about how to make their homes more efficient and sustainable, and networking and partnership opportunities present themselves in events such as a recent homeowner and contractor mixer.
As a model of ecologically and economically sustainable housing, the SEED House integrates relatively inexpensive “green” features into a modest Southern California residential building. Traditional central HVAC, down lighting, gas water heater, full kitchen and bathroom, and an attic and crawl space are placed and treated strategically throughout the 1,200 sf house, but represent no extra cost to the homeowner. Light colored roofing and siding reflect solar energy, and along with radiant barrier-backed plywood roof sheathing minimize heat gain. Three foot roof overhangs shade walls and windows more effectively, and a double-ply felt backing helps seal the roof surface, increasing indoor air quality.
Some innovations have added initial cost, but save on future energy and utility costs; these include LED down lighting, reclaimed windows, light tubes leading to skylights to reduce energy consumptions in interior rooms, water efficient toilet and kitchen appliances. Renewable, recycled and reused low-VOC construction materials are used throughout; specifically, a high percentage of the wood used in the SEED House is repurposed. Most of sustainable features currently in use are limited to the classroom space. Efficient lighting fixtures and bulbs, highly insulated double-pane windows, and efficient mini-split air conditioners with heat pumps reduce energy consumption and heat loss, while wall studs are framed 24 inches apart (instead of the usual 18 inches) in order to fit more insulation and utilize less wood. Sustainable systems will be added to the house as students build upon the existing structure: future hookups for a grid-tied solar PV system, and a rainwater collection system for use in landscaping, to water on-site farming, and to prevent extensive stormwater runoff.
Many of SEED House’s features are exposed to students and homeowners via plexiglass “reveals” in walls, where the transparent surface replaces drywall to show the inner workings of the house. Manufacturers of green building materials may exhibit their products on a material and product wall within the house, and monitoring devices and meters show real-time energy saving and other sustainability data from the house. These and other features aid CCEO’s educational mission, but hands on training is essential to the learning process of green building professionals. To this end, several instructional mock-ups are available for construction process demonstrations and hands-on learning, such as an attic and crawlspace, and a small section of wall where students learn weatherization and insulation techniques via a state-sponsored program. Paved outdoor space is available for the construction of additional mock-ups, so that new techniques may be demonstrated and experimented upon.
The SEED House has become an important advocate for green building and construction in the South Bay communities. Its initial programs have drawn great numbers of building and construction professionals, and many should return for green home building training throughout the year. The community has already been engaged in the construction of the house, with volunteers from YouthBuild and local community groups learning sustainable construction materials and methods along the way. SEED House is already creating environmental awareness and action in South Bay residents and building professionals, fostering a truly sustainable building culture and community.