Gulf Coast Upgrade

Affordable and efficient can co-exist — even after a disaster

July 01, 2011
July/August 2011
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2011 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Impressive Application Potential and Valuable Insights

Participants also reported great satisfaction with results gained from project participation. Summarizing lessons learned by his organization, for example, Josh Bontrager, construction director for the Habitat affiliate in East St. Tammany Parish, reported, “Having to complete these tasks expressly for the Building America program was the impetus we needed to begin thinking more directly and intentionally about energy efficiency. Our affiliate has now permanently adopted many of these requirements, making them the main talking point for the homes we build now.”

Researchers believe the eventual application of these achievements holds great potential for adoption on a worldwide scale. Comprising 1,500-plus affiliates in the United States and over 500 affiliates abroad, for example, Habitat for Humanity International, since its inception in 1976, has so far built a total of more than 200,000 houses, averaging a construction rate of approximately 5,700 houses per year.

learn more

For more information on the Gulf Coast High-Performance Affordable-Housing Demonstration Project sponsored by the Building America Industrialized Housing Partnership (BAIHP) through the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC), go to

For more information on the BAIHP/FSEC Lakeland, Florida, Habitat for Humanity Hot-Humid Climate Case Study, go to

To download Katrina & Rita, Five Years Later: 2005–2010, a report issued by Habitat for Humanity International summarizing the postdisaster rebuilding work, go to

To download the 2010 High Performance Home Building Guide for Habitat for Humanity Affiliates, go to

Perhaps the most valuable takeaways from the FSEC/Building America’s Gulf Coast High-Performance, Affordable-Housing Demonstration Project are the fundamental insights gleaned by researchers that essentially recontextualize technology transfer in terms of cultural transmission. One primary aspect of these insights focuses exclusively on human behavior, and another on bureaucratic practice. In the first case, researchers emphasized the importance of fully comprehending and respecting each individual partner’s building approach and baseline practices. The key goal should then be to seek a workable compromise wherever possible, adapting previously identified performance improvements to suit each individual partner.

“In reality, there were slight differences in the improvement package as it was actually implemented among the different affiliates,” FSEC researcher Janet McIlvaine explains. “In general, the package was presented to the affiliate, and then if there were items they didn’t want to do, we tried to accommodate with adjustments elsewhere. On the other hand, things like the outside-air system, ducted exhaust fans, and the Energy Star thermal-bypass criteria, we categorized as nonnegotiable.”

Assuring Cultural Transmission of Technology Transfer

McIlvaine says she now recognizes that a specific set of organizational requirements must be in place to achieve project success. The first requirement is to make sure an organization is truly capable of taking on the project and participating as a full partner. To assess whether that exists, McIlvaine suggests looking at the organization’s overall trends and future projections for both funding and staffing levels.

She also recommends making sure there is full organizational buy-in, all the way from the board of directors to the subcontractors. One sure indication that buy-in can be relied on are signs that the project has become an element of organizational identity.

It’s also critical, McIlvaine says, to provide a framework for the adoption of building science concepts within the organization’s culture by establishing a consistent and hands-on program of presentations, workshops, and on-site counseling.

By successfully applying a carefully selected package of performance improvements in one of the most chaotic settings, project researchers may have actually produced a set of critical indicators to help bridge the specialized world of building science specialists and the larger world of everyday, commercial home builders and budget-conscious consumers.

Roger Hahn is a freelance writer and editor based in New Orleans. His work has appeared in Civil Engineering, Historic Preservation, and Next American City.


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