Habitat for Humanity to construct home that produces its own energy


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One local family could soon live in a house that zeroes in on saving energy.

The Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity has partnered with University of Iowa Engineers for a Sustainable World to build their first net-zero-energy home, which uses insulation, solar panels, energy-efficient appliances, and solar water heaters to generate all the energy it uses. The house will be located on Douglas Court.

These initiatives will cost an extra $15,000 on top of the roughly $125,000 to build the house itself, according to Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity Director Mark Patton. However, he said, the extra expenditures will provide significant savings for the home's owners in the long run.

"My guess is that the extra item payback will be [in] 10 to 15 years, but the life of those [additions] will be over 20 years, so there's actually a net gain there," he said. "The behavior of the consumer terrifically affects the savings."

Patton said the home will also include a energy-monitoring fixture that can instantly report the amount of energy consumption in the home. Such a mechanism, he said, could reduce energy consumption by about 15 percent.

"In energy speak, that's low hanging fruit. If you have a little monitor that says your stove is still on and it's costing you a dollar for every minute it's on, you'll turn it off," Patton said. "What it becomes is a change of behavior."

Patton said that over the past three years, the program has installed extra insulation and superior heating and cooling systems to cut energy use. This will be the first project that includes a comprehensive energy-saving system.

Habitat for Humanity will sell the home upon completion to a local family who demonstrate need for housing. Patton said prior to construction, the selected family will receive education in energy efficiency.

Engineers for a Sustainable World has researched different energy-saving mechanisms with Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity.

Hudson Francis, a UI engineers project leader, said Iowa Valley was in a unique position as a nonprofit organization to build an energy-efficient home.

"It can do construction projects, and it doesn't have to worry so much about creating a house as cheaply as possible for a profit," he said. "It can do things right."

Energy-efficient measures start with the beginning stages of a home, said Engineers for a Sustainable World member Kristina Craft.

"It's really important to think about how you're building your home and the construction process," she said. "That's where being green and environmentally friendly all starts — save on materials and build sustainably with the future in mind."

Patton said consumer behavior is still a significant factor in the net-zero project's energy goals.

"The hardest leg of the project to predict is the consumer," he said. "Do you have a consumer who takes short showers or has teenagers who take long showers? Do they unplug appliances when they're not in use? If we're all educated, we could all do that, but we get a little complacent, we get a little lazy, and we're probably ignorant."

Construction is set to begin in the fall with completion scheduled for the spring of 2013.

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