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South Boston energy-saving project enters ‘home’ stretch

The award-winning ecoMod green housing project in South Boston is nearing completion, with installation of energy-saving appliances one of the final steps.

Southside Outreach Group Executive Director Earl Howerton said Friday installation of appliances is “about 75 percent complete,” with each of the two units benefiting from energy efficient refrigerators, dish washers, microwave units and washer-dryers.

The project, a cooperative effort between the Town of South Boston, University of Virginia, SIPS of Blairs, SVHEC and Cardinal Homes of Wylliesburg, was initiated by the town and Southside Outreach Group.

The first two houses for the project, both owned by Southside Outreach Group on land donated by the Town of South Boston for the project, are similar, yet different.

The first is a “code house” built according to Virginia statewide building code, and the second is built by the “passive standard,” having to meet a certain standard, a standard that uses different materials than what are used in a code house, such as Styrofoam insulated panels (SIPS).

Energy use and indoor comfort of the homes will be monitored to allow the University of Virginia research team to assess the performance of the homes.

The passive house was built for $105 per square foot, and the control home was built for $70 per square foot, both figures within the range for affordable housing in most areas of the country.

Southside Outreach Group, which owns both houses, is a non-profit organization that assists low-to-moderate income persons in obtaining affordable, safe housing.

The ecoMod concept fits precisely into that mission, with families having to meet a certain income guideline earning 80 percent of the median income for the area, he explained.

The houses will be rent-to-own, and Southside Outreach Group is undergoing a vetting process to determine the first two families to move into the homes.

Howerton’s group will counsel the families in financial literacy, pull credit reports and tell them what to do in order to get ready for home ownership opportunities.

Families will then transfer out of that home situation into home ownership opportunities at the same site, with more to follow in a cycle that will provide more home ownership opportunities for low- and middle-income families.

That model may have been a primary reason for the project winning Architect Magazine’s 2013 Research and Development Award.

The ecoMod project at Poplar Creek Street in South Boston is part of a grant-funded initiative of the University of Virginia dubbed ecoMod South. 

EcoMod South also has designed a “passive house” located in Abingdon.