2018-04-01 / Shorts

Zeroing in on Home

The State College Community Land Trust’s GreenBuild is putting up walls — and breaking down energy barriers
Maggie Anderson | Photos by Matt Fern

With the snow finally gone, State College is starting to green up — especially at 1394 and 1396 University Drive. That’s the site of the State College Community Land Trust’s GreenBuild, a duplex built to be both affordable and sustainable.

“A couple of years ago we had the opportunity to purchase some land in the State College Borough,” says Colleen Ritter, executive director of SCCLT. “We recognized that based on the dimensions of it, we could build a duplex there, to achieve maximum occupancy density. At the same time, we had just started to explore the idea of doing something that was highly energy-efficient.”

Working from a plan developed by Penn State architecture students in a competition called Race to Zero — the team won awards at the national competition for their design — local construction company Envinity won the contract to build the project for SCCLT.

“It’s an exciting project,” says Jason Grottini, director of residential operations at Envinity. “We basically want to prove the concept that income-qualified housing, and housing in general in our area, can look nice, be modern and give you all the amenities of a 3,000-square-foot McMansion but generate all of the energy that it uses.”

The two 1,360-square-foot units, each with three bedrooms and one-and-a-half bathrooms, are built to give owners a net zero in energy costs each year. In addition to solar panels lining the roofs, a detailed look at the buildings’ envelope allows for maximum energy efficiency.

“When people walk in, they’re going to notice some of the things they’re used to, like an open floor plan and modern amenities,” says Grottini. “When you dig a little deeper, you’ve got highly insulated walls, a highly insulated attic and airtight construction. We’re basically heating the whole house with one mini split heat pump, which is a lot smaller than people are accustomed to.”

Rendering courtesy EnvinityRendering courtesy Envinity

While the square footage may also be a bit smaller than people are accustomed to, so is the price tag. Each unit is priced at $187,500 compared to a median purchase price of $329,900 in the State College Borough, according to the Borough’s Planning Department based on data from the peak of the 2017 real estate buying season.

“What the land trust has been doing is trying to make housing affordable to people to be able to purchase,” says Ritter. “But the other aspect is that it needs to be affordable for people to live in and sustain homeownership.”

Applications are open to potential buyers who will have to qualify based on income and previous homeownership requirements, and as with all land trust houses, the land ownership is retained by SCCLT.

But both Grottini and Ritter see this project as proving a concept that could be replicated throughout the Centre Region.

“We’re really evaluating our business model on the construction side,” says Grottini, “to hopefully do more homes like this that are modest-living, simple designs, net-zero energy and really push the envelope locally.”

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