Habitat East Bay builds “green” -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Habitat East Bay builds “green”

By Patti Wang

Habitat for Humanity East Bay is located in the San Francisco Bay area in Northern California. Habitat East Bay experimented with sustainable building techniques for years, and then made a solid commitment to building “green” in 2002 with a development of four homes in the city of Oakland. That small development was the training ground for full scale green construction going forward. Today Habitat East Bay only builds sustainable housing and on a much larger scale.

“We are currently working on a 22-home green project in the city of Livermore and a 26-home sustainable development in Oakland,” says Janice Jensen, Habitat East Bay’s executive director. “We build green to take better care of our environment, our homeowners and our volunteers. It’s also a smart, cost-effective way to build.”

Green building is a “whole-systems” approach for designing and constructing homes that conserve energy, water and material resources. Habitat East Bay’s sustainable building techniques include:

  • Using sun and wind to the building’s advantage for natural heating, cooling and lighting
  • Landscaping with native plants and incorporating bioswale[1] drainage systems
  • Building durable structures
  • Insulating well and ventilating appropriately
  • Incorporating salvaged, recycled and sustainably harvested materials
  • Maintaining healthy indoor air quality with low-VOC[2] finishes/sealants, materials
  • Using energy-efficient and water-saving appliances and fixtures
  • Reducing and recycling construction waste

At Habitat East Bay’s Livermore development the homes were designed with most of the windows and living space facing south, which allows natural heating in the winter and cooling in summer through a thermal mass concrete slab. Ventilating skylights help cool and aerate the house in hot weather. Photovoltaic electrical systems collect the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity. This system is nearly maintenance free and can eliminate monthly electric bills. The use of fly ash in the concrete, engineered lumber, raised heel roof trusses and 24” on center framing are other sustainable building techniques utilized.

Some have wondered if green building is too expensive for Habitat homes. Habitat East Bay has repeatedly proven that the “too expensive” concern of green building is a myth. Affiliates do not have to spend enormous sums of money to build environmentally sustainable homes. Green building can be accomplished on various budget levels. Many sustainable materials are comparable in price to their traditional counterparts; it’s just a matter of choice.

As Habitat East Bay looks toward the future they plan to continue building green while improving their construction methods. They are also working to develop techniques to pass on to other interested Habitat affiliates. They have an active committee called the Green Team that works behind the scenes to further develop the program and educate homeowners on the simple methods to maintain their green home.

“Environmental consciousness is not just a concept to us,” says Jensen. “We are committed to the stewardship of our environment, homes and homeowners, and we take this commitment very seriously. Being green is part of who we are at Habitat East Bay. I hope many more builders will join us.”

Patti Wang is the marketing and development officer at HFH East Bay.


[1] The Livermore site was graded so that all water runoff would be directed to the bioswale, which is a thin strip of landscaped soil that filters the water before it returns to the water table. This naturally removes pollutants that would otherwise run into the city’s storm water drains. The plants used to landscape both the bioswale and the rest of the site are native to the area, used to the dry climate and do not require extra irrigation in the dry season thus conserving water.

[2] VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds—the chemicals that are emitted paint, insulation and some flooring. Studies have been done that show these chemicals can be detrimental to a person’s health and may contribute to higher cancer and asthma rates. HFH East Bay tries to use low VOC products when possible.