City hopes "net-zero" house will set new standard for low-income homes

Sunday, December 29, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Erv Mertzlufft, Hans Scherer, and Ross Swofford discuss the best way to continue construction on a Habitat for Humanity project at 413 Ash St. in Columbia on Friday. This house will produce as much electricity as it uses, leaving a net-zero environmental impact.

COLUMBIA — Solar panels on the roof. Low-flow plumbing fixtures. A solar-powered water heater. One hundred percent LED lighting.

Habitat for Humanity's "net-zero" house is beginning to take shape on West Ash Street, and the city hopes it will set an example for how low-cost, low-energy housing could evolve in Columbia.

But residents don't need a special house to reduce energy costs — just the right insulation, Columbia Housing Program Supervisor Randy Cole said.

"First, you need to enhance the thermal envelope," he said.

Good insulation eliminates air filtration by keeping cold air outside and warm air inside, or vice versa.

"The home will be sealed so tight that it will need an energy recovery ventilator to circulate air throughout the house," said Bill View, executive director of the Show-Me Central Habitat for Humanity.

This is the first time the Show-Me Habitat for Humanity has built a house like this, volunteer supervisor Erv Mertzlufft said, and everything about building the house seems different.

"It has 45 percent more insulation in the walls and ceiling, and we normally don't put four inches of insulation under the (floor) slab," View said.

Adding extra insulation is quite a bit of extra work, Mertzlufft said.

"You've got to form up the footing, and it has to be smooth for the Styrofoam to be put in," he said.

The home also will be 100 percent accessible to people with disabilities. "We are going to incorporate universal design elements, which includes a zero step entrance, wider hallways and doors, and extra turnaround space in bathrooms," Cole said.

City staff first floated the idea for a low-cost, energy-efficient home about a year ago.

The city asked non-profit organizations to submit designs for a self-sufficient home that low-income families could afford. Habitat for Humanity's proposal stood out because it included solar panels, Cole said.

The total cost to construct the house is slightly more than $110,000, according to the design proposal. The city donated $65,000  to the project from funds it sets aside for community development programs run by nonprofit organizations. Another $18,000 from the Water and Light Department, Cole said, and Habitat for Humanity provided the rest.

Habitat for Humanity will sell the house through a real estate company for $107,000. To be eligible to buy the house, a person or family must earn less than 80 percent of the average income for Boone County — for example, the annual income for a family of four must be below $52,800.

View said Habitat for Humanity hopes to complete the home between late-spring and mid-summer of 2014.

Supervising editor is Adam Aton.

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Mark Foecking December 29, 2013 | 1:23 p.m.

Last Friday (12/27) I was at my Sanford property and saw so much smoke at the south end of the street I was concerned there was a house fire. When I got there, the workers had a barrel with a fire in it that was pouring a cloud of dense smoke into the air. It was far worse then any grill or fireplace emission I've ever seen.

Please, if you need heat, use something that doesn't smoke the neighborhood out. Propane heaters are clean and the fuel inexpensive.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 30, 2013 | 7:17 a.m.

Good point. Don't know about Columbia but at some locations you can rent propane heaters.

Propane is an excellent fuel: high caloric value and clean-burning. It would be used more for industrial combustion if it weren't more expensive than some other fuels (gas, liquid or solid).

For large-volume fuel users the practice has been to use natural gas during warm months and either fuel oil or propane during very cold spells in winter, when industrial users must (by contract) switch to an alternate fuel so that enough natural gas is available to heat homes, schools, offices, hospitals, etc.*

In the North the alternative fuel of choice is fuel oil; in the South, propane, because cold spells spells are shorter.

But 25 miles from Columbia there's a processing kiln that uses propane as standy fuel. The hot zone temperature of this particular kiln is about 2,200F, which in ceramics and metallurgy is considered a "moderate" temperature (not really hot).

*-When an industrial user must go off natural gas is determined by total demand on the pipeline system, NOT on the temperature at the user's location.

(Report Comment)

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