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Habitat for Humanity: Champions of Efficient Housing in Vermont

Vermont’s first certified Passive House, built by Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity in Charlotte, Vermont. Image: Philip Jensen Carter.

Peter Schneider

Working as an energy consultant for Vermont’s statewide energy efficiency utility has allowed me to witness – and play a role in – one of the greatest affordable housing success stories in the country.

Across Vermont there are ten affiliates and chapters of Habitat for Humanity. Combined, they represent one of the largest housing development organizations in the state, and their unique model has provided hundreds of Vermont families a hand up and out of very poor housing circumstances.

Habitat for Humanity has evolved and grown to become one of the true champions of designing and building to the highest energy efficiency standards. Efficiency Vermont has been honored to support this evolution over the years by consulting in all stages of Habitat for Humanity projects; from design and construction through final commissioning. In many cases ongoing relationships with families and Efficiency Vermont have been maintained as the organization checks in to advise them on the proper operation and maintenance of their high-performance systems.

In the early days, Habitat for Humanity was focused, as were many of us, on the “first” cost of a house. Anyone who’s ever owned a home can appreciate that what you pay upfront for your house is only the beginning. There is the cost of maintaining the home, the cost of paying taxes on the home, and the cost of insurance, to name a few.

There’s also the cost of energy – powering lights and appliances and keeping the home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. These energy costs are substantial and they disproportionately affect lower-income families.

Partnering on a Passive House

About 10 years ago, Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity broke ground on a new home that accomplished three “firsts” in a single project in Charlotte: Vermont’s first certified Passive House, North America’s first modular (built in a factory and finished on site) certified Passive House, and the world’s first Habitat for Humanity certified Passive House.

That project helped set the stage for today’s reality. Nearly every Habitat for Humanity home built in Vermont is designed and constructed to earn Efficiency Vermont Certified recognition. Habitat’s leadership has been supported by Efficiency Vermont’s Residential New Construction program, which provides technical support and up to $6,000 in incentives for income-eligible customers meeting energy performance standards.

The generosity of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) has been instrumental in enabling Habitat projects to meet the highest energy performance standards. VHCB funding has helped pay for the construction of more than 125 Habitat for Humanity homes around the state. Recently, VHCB raised its grant amount to $39,900 for Habitat homes that meet the Efficiency Vermont Certified High-Performance level and $35,900 for Habitat homes that meet the current energy standard of 54 HERS (Home Energy Rating System).

The impact of this partnership means that Vermont families who purchase homes through the Habitat for Humanity program will spend less on energy, will be more comfortable, and will breathe more healthful air. The value of these benefits is difficult to quantify but is reflected by families who stay in Habitat for Humanity homes many years longer than typical first-home buyers.

Vermont is very fortunate to have such a strong and committed network of Habitat for Humanity affiliate chapters working to improve the lives of families in every corner of the state. Vermont is equally fortunate to have an organization like VHCB providing the financial resources that help make these high performing homes available to families who stand to benefit the most from them. The hundreds of volunteer contractors and workers who pitch in to build these great homes at the lowest possible cost are the final ingredient in a recipe that brings energy efficiency and affordable housing together to help strengthen Vermont households.

Reprinted with permission. Originally written for Efficiency Vermont’s blog on April 22, 2019 at http://bit.ly/Habitat-for-humanity-energy-efficient-housing.

Peter Schneider is a Senior Energy Consultant at Efficiency Vermont and a member of their Residential New Construction team.

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