Above: Video of Ryan McCoon, a longtime board member with Habitat for Humanity—GTR discussing the benefits of energy net-zero homes for Habitat families.
Habitat for Humanity, Grand Traverse Region, earned national renown in recent years for building an energy net-zero neighborhood, by Traverse City’s library. The project was based on an understanding that affordability is not just about home purchase price, but also home operating costs.
The success of that neighborhood is now being applied to a new Habitat home being built in Kingsley, and a big part of the equation is a solar array. To fundraise for the solar array, Habitat turned to Groundwork’s SolaRISE crowdfunding platform, which is specifically designed for nonprofits. As the project leader for SolaRISE, I was really excited to be working with Habitat’s devoted and visionary team. To learn more, I checked in with Wendy Irvin, executive director of Habitat for Humanity GTR (right).
For those who may have only a vague idea of what Habitat for Humanity does and how it works, can you give us a brief flyover?
Habitat provides strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter. We partner with eligible candidates with household incomes in the range of 30% to 60% of the Area Median Income who have a critical need for housing, from the physical state of their current living conditions to the financial challenges. Habitat partners with families and individuals to build their home. It’s a true partnership. Each adult invests 275 hours of their own labor, called “sweat equity,” working alongside volunteers, and completes homebuyer education and budgeting classes. Habitat then sells the home to the family through an affordable mortgage.
Give us some backstory on that. Like, where did the idea originate and why energy net-zero is important.
Habitat-GTR’s net-zero Depot Neighborhood originated eight years ago when faced with the increasing challenges of affordable housing. We were forced to think in innovative ways. The net-zero conversation surfaced as a cost savings measure for our homeowners. By taking steps to reduce energy consumption, and adding renewable energy, we are able to provide a sustainable future for our home owners. Our design team of experts in building technology and energy efficiency and our board had the vision to build to better standards to better serve our families, the community and the environment.
While building 10 net-zero homes our team had opportunity to educate volunteers on site, along with each partner family we serve, and the next generation. The Depot Neighborhood logged over 33,000 volunteer hours from community members. Habitat hosted groups from across the state who toured the net-zero energy homes. Some of those represented were from MSHDA, DTE, GreenHome Institute, U.S. Green Building Council, as well as entire communities like the City of Holland officials in partnership with their local Habitat.
It is an honor for Habitat-GTR to be recognized for its net-zero energy achievements; each award is special and unique. Our community volunteers are deserving of this recognition.
One memorable moment during this project was receiving the call and invitation from the U.S. Department of Energy to present with chief architect Sam Rashkin at Habitat for Humanity’s Global Conference. We were selected to showcase a cold climate success story. Habitat received the U.S. Dept. of Energy Housing Innovation Award the previous year. It was a memorable experience to share the challenges and outcomes of a project like this with those who understood the goal and those eager to learn from it.
Is the net-zero approach part of all your homes moving forward? If only select projects qualify, what tilts a home toward doing net-zero?
We would love to make net-zero a reality for every one of our homes and we will be giving it our all to make that happen. But, that said, we also have to watch our budget, and net-zero does add to the initial cost of the home. We will continue to build to these standards if the location is conducive to solar and if we can secure the funds for each home. Donor support is needed for each home we build.