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Building an Affordable, High-Performance Home

Working for Habitat for Humanity is a life-changing experience. We knew going into the high-performance home build in Randolph, Vermont, that the work was important. Affordable housing is one of the most critical issues in communities all over the world – and Vermont is no exception.

But what we didn’t know, was that we would be most impacted by the people.

Join us as we work with the team of volunteers in Central Vermont, and you’ll witness the true spirit of giving back – building up your own community through hard work, patience, and laughter.

 

 

Affordable Housing in Vermont

To better understand the challenge that low-income families face, it’s important to understand the term “housing wage.” It’s the amount a full-time worker needs to earn to afford a modest apartment – while spending no more than 30% of his or her income on rent and utilities. National Low Income Housing Coalition – nlihc.org

Vermont has a housing wage of $22.40 — ranking the 13th highest in the U.S. But the gap between the average hourly wage renters make, $12.85, and housing wage ranks even higher, at fifth in the country, making affordable housing out of reach for many Vermonters. Vermont Digger – vtdigger.org

 

The High-Performance Habitat Home

The Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity (CVHH) is familiar with high-performance building. They’ve got a passive home under their belts, and considered the same for the build in Randolph.

Architect Neil Husher, Vermont Architects Collaborative, designed the home in Randolph to maximize energy-efficiency, and the focus was on tightly air-sealing the entire building envelope.

“We couldn’t do a passive house here because we didn’t have any sunshine, but we could do high-performance, so that was our target to shoot for.”

– Neil Husher, Architect, Volunteer, Vermont Architects Collaborative

 

“With all of the details, it was a learning curve for me. This is framed differently than I’ve ever framed before, it’s actually balloon framed, even up to the rafters,” said Husher. “We also attached the ledger boards for the decking on the inside of the ICF, so there are no rim joist insulation problems, which you normally have on houses.”


Efficiency Vermont

Vermont is a progressive state in regards to energy efficiency, and much of the growth has to do with Efficiency Vermont.

Founded in 2000 as the nation’s first energy-efficient utility, Efficiency Vermont provides technical and financial support to improve the energy efficiency of homes, businesses, and communities.

“Efficiency Vermont is really keen on helping with the social responsibility of living in Vermont.“

– Jennifer Severidt, Energy Consultant – Residential, Efficiency Vermont 

 

For the folks at Habitat, this meant not only a significant refund for achieving an established list of standards, but also personalized help in the support of a Residential Energy Consultant, Jennifer Severidt. Detailed air sealing and continuous insulation were essential components in this build, and Jennifer was not only on hand to explain and review installation details, she worked right along with the rest of the volunteers to install the building materials herself.


The High-Performance Building Materials

To maximize energy-efficiency, Rockwool COMFORTBATT insulation was used in the interior wall cavities, and Dow Styrofoam Blue Board continuous insulation was used on top of the sheathing, to limit thermal bridging through the studs.

“But when we started to look at putting insulation on the exterior walls,” said Severidt, “We thought – What are we going to do about the windows?”

They chose ThermalBuck, which extended the mounting point to create a flush plane with the Blue Board, and insulated the rough openings, to limit thermal bridging in the building envelope.

“ThermalBuck takes care of that problem, of how to create a thermal break at the window, and still have things line up.“

– Jennifer Severidt, Energy Consultant – Residential, Efficiency Vermont

ThermalBuck, the high-performance window buck, is made up of an extremely dense EPS, insulating 4 -times greater than wood window bucks. Coated with a waterproof resin and installed with DAP Dynaflex 800 Sealant and nails, it makes for a complete air and water barrier at the rough openings.

 


The Right Fit for the Build

The team of volunteers in Vermont is led by Project Lead Anne Walker, a former engineer with extensive knowledge of architecture and building.

Crew leaders Glen Seifert and Ken Stevens provided the ideal balance of work skills and people skills, keeping the crew moving along and enjoying the process.

The skill level for the majority of Habitat volunteers is best described as “do-it-yourselfers,” the materials used need to have simple installation methods, easily replicated by a revolving door of people. Not an easy task.

“With wood bucks, you need to have each piece at the right depth. It’s a lot fussier. ThermalBuck is much more precise, and much more forgiving.“

– Anne Walker, Project Lead, Volunteer, Central Vermont Habitat for Humanity 

 

ThermalBuck was an ideal fit, its unique “L” shape makes installing it at the right depth simple.

“ThermalBuck turned out to be a much easier approach to seal our windows, and gave us the added benefit of the thermal break,” said Anne. “With plywood, you’re creating a thermal conduit. But with ThermalBuck, it’s rigid, it’s structural, it’s much easier and faster than having to go around and manually build out the plywood bucking to get these windows aligned with our foam. It was really the perfect product.”


Just last year, The Washington Post reported statistics issued by Freddie Mac, which revealed that between 2010 and 2016, the number of apartments considered affordable for very low-income families across the United States decreased by more than 60 percent. To learn more about planning this high-performance home and the work of Habitat for Humanity, click here.  

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