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Eco-friendly units ‘the way to go’ for affordable housing

Earl Howerton watched with pride Thursday morning as the first of two ecoMod home units for South Boston’s Poplar Creek Subdivision project were placed on their respective foundations.

After all, the president of Southside Outreach Group has been a driving force in bringing affordable housing to Halifax County in recent years.

This latest project, a cooperative effort between the Town of South Boston, University of Virginia, SIPS of Virginia in Blairs, SVHEC and Cardinal Homes of Wylliesburg, is a big step forward, he explained.

“Originally, we were going to go with stick built units, but UVa convinced us to go with these,” explained Howerton.

“EcoMod were the way to go, because they were going to be energy-efficient, and that’s what we’re trying to do, make the houses more affordable and energy-efficient for our beneficiaries.

“This is a good start.”

The first two houses for the project, both owned by Southside Outreach Group, are similar yet different, Howerton said.

“The first one is ‘code house’ built according to Virginia statewide building code,” he explained, and the second is built by the ‘passive standard.’”

“It has 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).

Elizabeth Rivard, UVa, a recent graduate of the architecture program and a research assistant with the project, also was on-site Thursday along with ecoMod South Project Manager Michael Britt.

The Poplar Creek Subdivision project is part of a larger group of projects, the seventh overall, with the passive ecoMod house design based on a prototype built in Charlottesville, Rivard explained.

The two houses look the same on the outside and contain the same finished material inside, the only difference is one will be passive and other a code compliance house, according to Rivard.

“Engineering students from the University of Virginia will be monitoring both of them for a two-year period, so we have some sensors in place,” said Rivard.

“Actually, we have a second passive house in Abingdon, so we’ll be comparing them,” added Rivard.

Southside Outreach Group is a non-profit organization that assists low-to-moderate income persons in obtaining affordable, safe housing, and the ecoMod concept fits precisely into that mission, Howerton indicated. 

Families have to meet a certain income guideline earning 80 percent of the median income for the area, he explained.

“Houses will be rent-to-own.  We’ll get a family in here and counsel them in financial literacy, pull credit reports and tell them what to do in order to get ready for home ownership opportunities,” said Howerton.

“Plans are to transfer them out of that home situation into home ownership opportunities at this site. Then we’ll put in some more families, so it’s an ongoing process.”