The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International

Habitat World

Green and Growing

Green and Growing

Habitat for Humanity builds around the world for the benefit of our environment and our homeowners.

The elements differ from place to place, but the goals are universal: provide healthy living conditions and reduce monthly and life-cycle costs. Habitat for Humanity has established a standard that, by 2013, all Habitat homes in the United States will have, at minimum, an Energy Star rating. Many affiliates are already building to that standard and beyond, and Habitat World offers this round-up of recent, notable examples in celebration of that progress.

Leave a comment to tell us what kind of “green building” is sprouting up in your community.

North Carolina

Just before Christmas, Our Towns Habitat dedicated its first LEED Platinum home. LEED — which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — is a third-party certification program that is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings and homes.

Our Towns Habitat has previously completed a LEED Gold home and has built System Vision-certified homes for 10 years. The System Vision program, which helps with funding as well as providing certification, is exclusive to North Carolina; homes meet all requirements of Energy Star 3.0 and are equivalent to LEED Silver certification.

Total energy consumption in an average household:


for space heating


for appliances


for heating water


for air conditioning

environmental protection agency

Washington, D.C.

In December, Habitat homeowner Lakiya Culley became the proud owner of one unit in an award-winning home called the Empowerhouse.

The Empowerhouse was created for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon and represents a partnership among Habitat Washington, D.C.; The New School; the Stevens Institute for Technology; and D.C.’s Department of Housing and Community Development. The first Passive House (a highly-regarded international standard for sustainable building) in the District of Columbia, the Empowerhouse won first place in the decathlon’s affordability category and received a 2012 Mayor’s Sustainability Award.

The house was initially constructed on the National Mall as a single-family unit before a move to its permanent location in D.C.’s Deanwood neighborhood. There, two self-sustaining units were combined to create a carbon-neutral duplex with rooftop gardens and rainwater harvesting systems. Each unit will produce as much energy as it uses, but the implementation of Passive House principles means they’ll require much less energy to begin with, roughly the amount it takes to power a hair dryer.

Habitat D.C. already has broken ground on six more homes that will employ Empowerhouse technologies and design elements and Passive House standards.


In Ethiopia, the majority of the population depends on wood as a source of energy and fuel. Traditional stoves — basically open fires — waste energy. Their use strains family finances and the nation’s dwindling forest resources and presents a health hazard since homes lack chimneys to vent the smoke outdoors.

In 2008, Habitat Ethiopia started to improve stoves in homes in Debre Birhan by providing energy-saving concrete stoves with chimneys. The stoves reduce wood consumption by 50 percent and the smoke released from the firewood by 60 percent. This project has since expanded to six additional towns and now also includes the renovation of old kitchens.


Marcie Valenzuela’s home is the first Habitat house of its kind in Utah and only the sixth Habitat home in the world to combine geothermal and solar power. The geothermal system sources heat from below ground, sending glycol to the heat pump, which heats the house. By sourcing heat from the ground, which is warmer than the air, less energy is required from the heat pump. In the summer, the process is reversed to cool the home. This will save the Valenzuela family more than $100 a month on utilities.

The solar panels were donated by Salt Lake City Community College, whose students needed the opportunity for hands-on installation education. Salt Lake Valley Habitat hopes to create a development of about 20 homes that would access one geothermal station.

Habitat’s Cars for Homes program can take your old car and recycle it to generate funds to help build more homes locally.


Pacific Gas and Electric has announced the renewal of its Solar Habitat program, which provides solar panels for new Habitat homes in its service area at no cost to homeowners. Partnering with affiliates throughout northern and central California since 2007, PG&E has placed solar panels on more than 400 Habitat homes. The next beneficiaries will be 12 homes being constructed by Oakland’s Habitat East Bay/Silicon Valley. The panels are estimated to save homeowners $500 a year on their electric bills and keep more than 132,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere over the 30-year life of the system.


In December 2011, Habitat Macedonia launched the Energy Efficiency for Housing Sector Project, made possible by a USAID grant of $1.5 million. As part of the project, Habitat Macedonia has conducted energy-efficient renovations for low-income families, focusing on upgrading three apartment blocks. For the next three years, energy use and savings will be tracked to help innovation for future projects.

“Investments in energy efficiency result in energy savings and decreased energy costs, but also improved living conditions for the residents of those buildings,” says Robert Wuertz, USAID mission director for Macedonia. Habitat and USAID are exploring options to fund similar renovations in residential apartments in four additional countries in Europe and Central Asia.

Number of Habitat affiliates in the U.S. transforming neighborhoods through the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative: 190

New Hampshire

New Hampshire’s Pemi-Valley Habitat recently joined longtime partner the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative to give volunteers hands-on experience with sealing and insulating homes for maximum energy efficiency. The two organizations held four special build days over two weekends, working on the first of four neighboring energy-efficient homes. Pemi-Valley Habitat executive director Brian McCarthy says that since PAREI has been working with the affiliate, their homes exceed Energy Star requirements.


Habitat Prince Edward Island has received fresh insight into making its homes more energy-efficient, thanks to an international educational exchange at Holland College. “Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment” is an academic exchange project between Canada and the European Union that aims to have students solve efficiency design and renovation challenges through project-based learning. This fall, Holland College students welcomed peers from Ireland, Holland and Nova Scotia to create and present ideas to Habitat PEI for making homes more efficient at an affordable cost.


Up to 40 earthquake-affected families in Ofunato in northeastern Japan will have solar panels installed in their homes, thanks to Habitat Japan and its partners.

The installation means disaster-affected families will be able to save on their utility costs and also potentially sell excess electricity to a regional utility provider. Habitat Japan estimates that each household involved in the “Solar Home Recovery Project” may save and earn up to 1 million Japanese yen (USD$11,490) over 10 years.

Each family participating in the project will contribute toward the cost of their solar unit — an amount equivalent to what is available through a government rebate program — and thus enable Habitat to support more households.

Habitat ReStores in the United States diverted more than 200,000 tons of used building materials from landfills last year, while generating more than $76 million in net profits.