A house designed by two small Seattle firms will serve as a prototype for affordable green living in the Gulf Coast. And it might have a lesson or two for the Puget Sound.
Their entry, Core, is compact, adaptable and energy efficient, with geothermal heating and cooling, minimal material waste and a giant solar-powered fan.
The 1,200-square-foot house’s estimated total project cost is less than $99,000. The house will be built in June at a site donated by the city. It will then be auctioned off or sold to a lower income family.
Designers had to keep construction costs under $75,000. They designed the house on a four-foot module to reduce waste, with framing of exterior walls designed to link up at 24 inches, using fewer materials and fewer studs in the walls.
Recycled and sustainable materials were also worked in. The house has cement board siding, pine flooring and recycled concrete paving.
There were some things they couldn’t afford, like the green roof they wanted. Rainwater capture will irrigate the site but won’t run through toilets or the laundry.
The geothermal mechanical system cost a little more, but designers said it will pay for itself in energy saved in less than three years. It uses less than half the energy of a traditional HVAC system. Natural ventilation alone wasn’t an option for those sweltering Houston summers, but designers hope the solar-powered fan will be enough on some days.
The house also takes some green cred from its adaptability, with movable inside walls altering the house from one to four bedrooms or two duplex units instead. That decreases the chances of tear-down or a move when a family’s situation changes.
So why don’t we see many affordable green housing projects, in Seattle or elsewhere? Why is energy efficiency a prestige item? I know of some multi-family affordable projects in the area that are targeting lower energy use, but it sure seems slow to catch on. And it’s hardly cheap.
Of course, it’s impossible to build any house in Seattle for under 99 K. Labor is cheaper in Houston, land values are lower, and zoning and land use regulations are minimal. Wages and prices have a role in there as well. But it still stands to reason that we could be seeing super efficient design for the masses in Seattle.
Does it take a competition to get a house like this built here?