This article was originally published in the July/August 1997 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online July/August 1997

Habitat's Environmental Initiative

By Malcom Verdict

Malcom Verdict is director of research at the Alliance to Save Energy in Washington, D.C.

In 1994, HFHI launched an environmental initiative centered on the idea of sustainable construction--an idea that embraces resource- and energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive building techniques. The initiative is designed to reduce the environmental impact of HFHI affiliates' building programs by providing education and training, fund-raising assistance, and when possible, financial support to accommodate environmental objectives. HFHI is committed to developing and implementing this initiative without diverting funds from building homes. Over $4.5 million has been raised for environmental and resource efficiency projects--much of it coming from affiliates at the local level.

HFHI's environmental initiative has helped to spur dozens of projects. One such project is the construction of a five-star Energy Star model home by the Houston, Texas, Habitat for Humanity affiliate, in cooperation with the Alliance to Save Energy in Washington, D.C. The frame-wall house was built for less than $32,000, excluding land and fees, and includes these energy-efficient design features:

  • Increased insulation levels (R-30 ceilings, R-16 walls, and R-6 ducts)
  • High-efficiency equipment (12.0 SEER,1.5 ton air conditioning unit and 80% AFUE gas central furnace)
  • Building ventilation and infiltration controls (ceiling fans for increased air circulation, sealing of exterior envelope to 0.4 ACH and duct system to 90% efficiency)
  • Solar shading with solar screens and increased overhangs
The design looked good in theory, but the Houston Habitat wanted it tested. The affiliate and the Texas State Energy Office had Texas A&M's Energy System lab perform continuous monitoring of the house. Remote monitoring of HVAC run time, indoor-outdoor temperatures, and humidity showed 25% greater energy efficiency, at peak kWh demand, of the 12.0 SEER air conditioning over the 10.0 SEER unit next door.

Unfortunately, the homeowners set the setback thermostat to an indoor summer temperature level of less than 70°F, 24 hours per day. This initially negated the offsets gained by the design. Habitat quickly intervened to correct this problem; the homeowner was informed of the need to adjust the settings.

Experience on this project clearly demonstrates that, while energy efficiency improvements are important, careful monitoring and homeowner education are also key to ensuring success.

For more information on this project, contact Malcom Verdict, Director of Research, the Alliance to Save Energy, Washington, D.C. Tel:(202)857-0666; E-mail:


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