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Hitting the mark -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Hitting the mark

An Arizona affiliate achieves a rare distinction in green building



The homeowners of this green Habitat house in Arizona benefit from an array of energy-saving features.


Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona completed the United States’ first LEED platinum-certified affordable house last October.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a nationwide rating system that evaluates the energy efficiency and environmental impact of buildings using standardized criteria. Residential buildings earn points in categories such as water efficiency, energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality to achieve one of four rating levels (certified, silver, gold and platinum). Less than 200 platinum-level homes have been built and certified in the United States, and this Habitat house in Glendale, Ariz., is the first affordable house to achieve the designation.

The affiliate already had been building houses to Energy Star standards—a similar system of standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy—and was familiar with green building philosophies. When a house sponsor offered to pay for the cost of testing and certification, a team of landscape designers, affiliate construction staff and members of the Arizona chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council came together to plan the LEED build.

“It was just taking Energy Star one step further,” say James Ball, a site supervisor with Habitat Central Arizona. “For example, with the insulation package, we put R-38 in the ceiling instead of R-30. … Eighty percent of it is upfront—getting it all planned out, getting the documentation. Once it comes time to build, it’s just putting in place what you’ve already decided.”

The house features several energy-saving features:

  • Hardscape and gutter design that diverts 100 percent of rainfall to plants
  • Nontoxic or low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and finishes
  • An exhaust fan in the garage hardwired to the garage door to minimize carbon monoxide buildup
  • An on-demand hot-water recirculation system to reduce the lag time between turning on the hot water faucet and feeling hot water come from the tap
  • High-efficiency HVAC system
  • Low-flow water fixtures, faucets and toilets.

Not only will the family living in the house benefit from the energy-saving features, but the volunteers who helped build it gained experience and information that could be used to make their own homes greener.

“It’s everyday homeowners helping with the building process, so they’re seeing first hand these green features being implemented,” Ball says.