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February 16, 2012

EcoMOD project expanding efforts to build energy efficient affordable housing

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DailyProgressBy Courtney Beale
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, February 16, 2012

A University of Virginia architecture professor who specializes in modular housing briefed the James River Green Building Council Tuesday on his work to bring down the cost of constructing energy efficient homes.

“The people who are at the lower end of the income level are the ones who need the most help in reducing their energy inefficiency, and yet they are also the ones who can least afford the services,” said John Quale, director of the ecoMOD research project.

Since 2004, ecoMOD has partnered with affordable housing organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and the Piedmont Housing Alliance to show that environmental awareness in construction and renovation does not need to be limited to high-end remodels and expensive new developments. Quale said each experience has translated into new insights for both ecoMOD and its partners.

Their collaborations have resulted in the construction of a single-family home on Elliott Avenue, renovations to historic homes on Ridge and 5th streets and a two-unit condominium in Fifeville, as well as projects in Mississippi and Jamaica.

EcoMOD is also in negotiations with the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program to build and retrofit homes in Charlottesville’s 10th and Page neighborhood.

“We see this emerging partnership with AHIP as an opportunity perhaps to do both [new construction and renovations],” Quale said.

“We are hoping to be able to assist the housing stock in that neighborhood and come up with a plan to renovate and preserve what is there,” said Joyce Dudek, associate director of AHIP, in an interview.

EcoMOD and AHIP hope to improve homes in the neighborhood without displacing the people who currently live there. AHIP would like for this project to be used as a model for other projects throughout the city.

“There are a whole lot of different possibilities that come out of it,” Quale said.

According to Quale, this relationship will be slightly different from the one it has had with its other partners. Usually, the nonprofit partner provides the preliminary data that ecoMOD uses for its designs. But with AHIP the roles have been reversed and UVa students will be researching the needs of AHIP and the community to see how ecoMOD’s designs can meet those needs.

“With AHIP, we’re trying to actually frontload a little bit of that research and help them as they figure what this project is and what the scope of it is and what types of things are going to happen,” said Quale.

EcoMOD is currently working with Southside Outreach and People Incorporated to create affordable multifamily housing in South Boston and Abingdon, an area where abundant land makes such housing a less natural choice. The units, which are pre-built in an aircraft hangar, will be identical when constructed and will utilize numerous energy efficient technologies.

EcoMOD hopes to make its housing units an attractive living choice by designing them to feel like single-family homes.

The difference between the real estate climate in Charlottesville and the South Boston and Abingdon region presents a unique opportunity to study how the demand for ecoMOD townhomes is related to population density.

Quale said the innovative style of ecoMOD units continues to evolve. In the future, ecoMOD hopes to increase the efficiency of insulation methods and incorporate more passive solar heating in their designs to reduce the cost of mechanical systems.

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