Natural Talent 2010: Small, Green and Affordable

By Matt Baker

It’s been five years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Early predictions of the city’s impending demise, especially for its poorest, hardest hit neighborhoods like the lower Ninth Ward and Broadmoor, have so far proven unfounded. Proof of a city on the mend exists beyond the Saints’ Super Bowl success. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently undertaking the largest task in its history, a $14 billion overhaul of the levees. And all across the Mississippi Delta, residents are slowly moving back.

Punctuated by projects such as Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” campaign, there is an effort to ensure that the new housing for the returning NOLA diaspora goes up sustainably. Why build thousands of households, after all, when you could build thousands of green households?

Turning its attention to the region is the USGBC, which will deposit upon the Broadmoor neighborhood the four winning designs in its annual Natural Talent Design Competition. In partnership with the Salvation Army’s EnviRenew Initiative, this year’s competition challenges entrants to design homes that demonstrate hurricane resistance, comply with ADA requirements, incorporate principals of universal design and meet the Platinum requirements of LEED for Homes, all without exceeding 880 square feet in area nor $100,000 in construction costs

The USGBC — Illinois Chapter announced its winning entries in two categories: student and emerging professional. These designs will go on to the national level where they will compete to be one of the four homes to be constructed in Broadmoor and undergo a yearlong commissioning process. The jury for the Illinois Chapter entries was Sachin Anand, dbHMS, Laureen Blissard, LTLB Development, Peter Landon, Landon Bone Baker Architects, Chris McDonough, Gettys and William Seeger, Ecohabitat, LLC. The national jury features a similar cast of industry peers as well as perhaps the one group that cares the most about the outcome: Broadmoor residents.

Student Winner: Entry 6996
Jacob Schoenung
COST: $99,930
SIZE: 879 sq. ft

The winning student design was Entry 6996. Jacob Schoenung, the sole member of the team behind this design, is currently enrolled at Milwaukee Area Technical College. His entry will also serve as the capstone project for his Architectural Theory class.

Schoenung’s approach to was to make a home that could be reproduced and fit in well with the surrounding community. The design also takes accessibility into consideration. If a disabled homeowner were to approach the house, they would find ease in navigating the open spaces. From under the house and through the carport gate, they would find the wheel chair lift to the eastern side of the home. The front deck and main entryway are also adjacent to the lift. Upon entering the home, they would be able to find their way through all open and ADA accessible spaces.

Given the limited budget and task of designing a LEED platinum worthy home, some technologies couldn’t be included. Geothermal vertical wells would cut down considerably on utility bills. Unable to include solar panels and still remain under budget, the design calls for transoms above every door and window. An architectural feature virtually abandoned in lieu of airtight, temperature-controlled buildings, the transoms, in conjunction with the very high efficiency HVAC system, allow airflow to keep the house comfortable with zero energy need.

Environmentally friendly materials, precast concrete floors and low flow fixtures are some of the green elements inside the house. The shell would be constructed of local, reclaimed materials, synthetic wood, triple pane windows, structural insulated panels clad in fiber cement, reinforced concrete columns and seam roofing.

The judges expressed appreciation for the contextual craftsman design and realistic adherence to the strict $100,000 construction budget. The large side patio provides ample outdoor space for the family to gather and relax while also engaging with neighbors, a key social component to New Orleans culture.

Emerging Professional Winner: Resilient Broadmoor
Yuriy Chernets, Sean Moran, Jake Patton and Eric Wittmer
COST: $99,615
SIZE: 861 sq. ft

The Resilient Broadmoor home was designed to be both durable and efficient. The indoor and outdoor living spaces allow residents and guests to take advantage of the sun, wind and rain in resourceful ways. The landscape is designed with beautiful native plants and a self sustaining compost heap that would provide a food garden for residents.

This energy efficient and high performing house would use less energy, less water and creates less waste than a traditional home due to the many resourceful strategies in place. A 98% high efficiency boiler provides hot water for all of the domestic uses as well as for the hydronic radiant heating. Daylight and motion sensors, plenty of natural light, low-VOC paints, non-toxic materials and a free flowing floor plan take the stresses out of home ownership and do so sustainably.

The walls and roof for the home are designed to deflect hurricane winds and provide an extremely strong and safe shell of the home. Structurally insulated panels minimize heat loss and thermal bridging while simultaneously reducing construction waste due to its off-site manufacturing process. The shell of the home would be topped by a highly reflective standing seam metal roof made from recycled content.

Water efficiency design is maximized inside with the use of low flow water fixtures and outside with rainwater harvesting in a 180 gallon capacity “rain bench.” Excess rain water would be directed to a bio-swale and retention pond underneath the home providing life for the permaculture food forest. Fourteen different species of native plants create a beautiful and pleasing scenery without the maintenance or water needs of a traditional lawn.

The designers examined the full range and impact of materials throughout all phases of their useful life and tried to select materials that were local, made from renewable or recycled resources and had a long lasting life. Fiberglass frame, low-e windows, FSC-certified cabinets, compressed paper countertops and recycled content decking all add to the home’s sustainability.

Student Second Place: Une Nouvelle Tradition pour Broadmoor
Casey Benson, Anna Cody, Sarah DerKacy, Chantal Irish and Stephanie Nichols
COST: $120,000
SIZE: 850 sq. ft.

Inspired by the shotgun houses so prevalent in the neighborhood, the Une Nouvelle Tradition home honors the rich architectural tradition of New Orleans, but is designed to be environmentally, economically and socially sustainable. The use of prefabricated structurally insulated panels for wall, floor, and roof construction results in material efficiency and quick on site construction. Interior and exterior materials are environmentally beneficial as well as cost effective. Ample windows allow for energy use reduction through the use of daylighting. Window placement and the use of double hung windows result in natural cross ventilation.

The landscape design uses perennial peanuts as the primary ground cover. This alternative to turf is drought tolerant and requires minimal maintenance. Pervious concrete walkways and a rain garden finish the sustainability in the yard. To combat the termites so prevalent in New Orleans, all mature plants are located at least two feet from the home and the foundation is composed of pest-resistant masonry.

To minimize indoor water demand, all water fixtures meet the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program. Faucets provide a 30% efficiency improvement when compared with conventional models while toilets use 20% less water. Additionally, a simple five minute shower timer helps residents track water use.

The building shell and windows are designed to provide optimal envelope leakage. A ductless, quad zone, mini-split heat pump provides flexibility for heating and cooling individual zones or rooms, while also dehumidifying the home. Thermostats in each zone allow spaces to be conditioned only when in use, saving energy and money for the home’s residents.

Efficient light fixtures cut down on utility usage while Energy Star qualified ceiling fans with improved blade design and motor enhancement improve energy efficiency by 50%. The fans not only use less energy than their traditional counterpoint, but they also help reduce the need to turn on air conditioning.

Finally, homeowner awareness of the home’s features would be accomplished with an operations and maintenance binder and a detailed walk-through of the home’s equipment and features. Providing an open house, generating a newspaper article and displaying a LEED for homes sign would show the community that “eco-friendly” doesn’t need to look modern or have intimidating features.

Emerging Professionals Second Place: Broadmoor Revisited
Ludmila Georgieva, Vladimir Grozdanov, Iana Gueorguieva and Rossen Marinov
COST: $95,828
SIZE: 855 sq. ft.

Along with the safety and functionality considerations, an important part of the Broadmoor Revisited project is educating the new residents, as well as their neighbors, about the energy consumption of the new home.

Resources planned for use in creating the building envelope feature concrete with high fly ash content, locally manufactured and harvested materials, long-lasting metal roof made of recycled and recyclable materials, siding with recyclable steel and dry-process fiber cement, extensive use of FSC-certified lumber, FSC formaldehyde-free plywood, wallboard with recycled gypsum and argon-filled, insulated Energy Star windows. This efficient envelope results in R19 walls and R30 ceilings. Roof overhangs for shading and to shed rain result in a cost-efficient, durable and environmentally friendly construction, promoting local materials and manufacturers. Distinct features of the landscaping include pervious materials for all hardscapes, a rain garden and native drought-tolerant plants, as well as a compost area.

The same sustainable approach is applied for the interior and the building systems of the new home. Rapidly renewable materials such as bamboo are used for the entire flooring; formaldehyde-free cabinets and counter tops and low-VOC paints provide improvement in the indoor air quality. High-efficiency heat pumps for the hot water heater and HVAC system combine with minimal and efficient routing of hot water pipes and ducts, high MERV-value filters, CO2 sensors and a comprehensive indoor air quality plan keep the utility bill under the average for the area. Clerestory windows and skylights improve daylighting, while efficient lighting with fluorescents and LEDs and Energy Star appliances further reduce utility consumption. Dual-flush toilets and low-flow plumbing fixtures are all oriented towards energy efficiency and conscious use of water. The design allows for low cost of living without compromising for comfort.

Going a step further is the use of a 1 kW, grid-tied, solar photovoltaic system, a 1,000 gallon rain collection tank for roof water collection, plumbing for potential grey water re-use upon legalization, recycling and trash chute, composting of food waste, solar oven and foldable clothes airiers where the intent is to promote self-sufficiency as much as possible.

Labeling and color coding of recyclables, compostables, trash containers and gray, brown, and black water piping, along with a digital dashboard that displays the house’s performance is oriented towards educating the residents and promotes for consciously using the natural resources and the monetary benefit of doing so.

Student Third Place: Archigreen
Krzysztof Pajerski
COST: $72,663
SIZE: 725 sq. ft.

The Archigreen design treats the square footage restriction not as a hindrance but as an opportunity. Ease of movement through the floorplan was coupled with an effort to use the spaces for dual purposes to both minimize the cost and maximize the efficiency. Space was saved further by the elimination of a mechanical room; furnace and ducts were replaced by a tankless water heater-fed radiant floor system. This water heater also serves as a source of hot water for domestic use.

The structural system is also based on the theme of one component serving two purposes. The structure that bears the wheelchair ramp wrapping the house also supports the house, minimizing half of the required structure, with cross bracings for increased rigidity.

A butterfly roof and rainwater collector minimizes water use by reusing it for the dual flush toilets and for the irrigation system. The roof retains water, which serves several uses. In addition to rain harvesting, the water’s extra weight aids hurricane resistance while its reflectivity minimizes the heat island effect. Exaggerated eaves shade the house, keeping residents cool during warmer months.

The entire structure would be manufactured locally from structurally insulated panels, which add durability while lowering the cost of construction. Passive environmental control systems such as natural ventilation and light would significantly reduce utility dependence, but so would the two wind turbines planned for the property. The 650 W devices would reduce grid consumption by 13%. Inside the house, low-VOC paint, certified wood, motion sensor lighting and post consumer recycled products combine to offer excellent performance with minimum cost.

Emerging Professionals Third Place: Ouvri Koule Kay
Ryan Dooley
COST: $99,200
SIZE: 868 sq. ft

Ouvri Koule Kay, Creole for “open flow house,” is designed as a modern take on the traditional New Orleans bungalow, complete with large front porch, offset entry, and gabled roof. The roof gradually slopes and flattens as it travels back to take on a more modern aesthetic. This also helps create stack effect ventilation in the front of the house. Wooden louvers allow airflow from under the overhang to escape and create a suction eddy from overhead winds that helps remove stale hot air from the house.

Native plantings fit into the surrounding context and require little watering and maintenance. In areas where turf is needed, Zoysia will be used because of its low water demand and ability to thrive is salty coastal areas. Permeable pavers will be used to define the off-street parking area.

The design implements Airfloor, an array of interlocking metal domes incorporated in the floor structure, creating a radiant cooling and heating thermal slab. Energy Star products have been specified for all appliances, including an electric air source heat pump.

A tankless water heater would be used in Ouvri Koule Kay because tankless systems cost about 10 to 20 percent less to operate and can last up to twice as long as tank-type water heaters. In most cases, these savings allow the homeowner to recover the additional unit cost in a short period of time.

Envelope design consists of Bluwood framing, open-cell polyurethane foam insulation, oriented strandboard sheathing, and fiber cement board siding configured as a rainscreen. The open-cell foam is an excellent insulator that also strengthens the wall assembly. The Windstorm sheathing creates a quicker construction process with less waste and fewer air gaps, creating a better envelope seal that also has the strength to hold up under hurricane-force winds. The rainscreen has a cooling effect by dissipating heat via the ventilating air space between the wall structure and the screen.

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