Celebrated Solar Home Coming To Sandwich
By: Tom Moran Jr.
Housing Assistance Corporation will have a one-of-a-kind home on its hotly debated development planned off Victory Drive in Sandwich for formerly homeless men and women.
The Hyannis-based housing group recently purchased a house designed and constructed by a group of college students. Named Curio House, reflecting its designers’ attempt to pique curiosity about green construction, the home was built by Team Boston, a group of students from Boston Architectural College and Tufts University.
The team worked on the house for two years as part of a project to be entered in the US Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, which was held last month in Washington, DC. While Curio House did not win first place in the competition, it did capture the attention of many of the judges along with representatives from HAC.
According to Virginia M. Ryan, director of special projects for Housing Assistance Corporation, representatives from HAC first met with representatives from Boston Architectural College six months ago and were immediately impressed with the house and the students who were constructing it.
“The more we spoke with the administrators and the more we learned about the students and their mission to build a reasonably priced home that is ‘off grid,’ the more we loved the idea. Social justice is at the heart of what the students are doing,” Ms. Ryan said.
And the house, she said, ties in nicely with the mission of the Sandwich development, which is sustainable living.
Situated on 46.5 acres, the development, formerly called Dana’s Fields but now called Community Green, is a residential complex for previously homeless men and women and will provide training and skills in the areas of facility maintenance, agriculture, culinary arts, and green jobs.
“It’s about sustainability,” Ms. Ryan said.
“When you look at Curio House, you know it’s a unique house and represents the future, not in the modern sense or a wacky design, but it captures the imagination of what we see for Community Green,” she said.
The Curio House represents one of the five single-family rental homes that will be at the complex. Employing solar panels, a solar water heater, and radiant floor heating, it is designed to be energy self-sufficient. It boasts 650 square feet of living space, with a combination living room, bedroom, and kitchen area.
The home features floor-to-ceiling windows on the long south and north sides that let in plenty of sunlight, with shades for privacy. The house is also equipped with a three-foot overhang on the south side to shield the house in the summer from the high sun, helping to keep the interior cool. All windows are treated to hold in cool or warm air, depending on the season.
Despite the home’s small square footage, Housing Assistance Corporation was not the only interested buyer.
“There were other people interested in the house. But I think most of the other potential buyers were not looking to use it for residential purposes. They wanted it more for a representation of green building. We are going to use it for an actual residence on Community Green,” Ms. Ryan said. She anticipates that the house will be home to the site’s agricultural manager.
Ms. Ryan said the other four homes that will be built at Community Green will also be energy efficient.
“Our goal is to make each one of them as energy efficient as possible, and we fully expect that all five houses are going to be off the grid,” she said.
Ms. Ryan admitted that the initial upfront costs for building homes that are energy efficient and rely more on renewable energy than fossil fuels are a bit higher.
“That’s where the challenge comes in: to keep the price of a house reasonable and still be able to take advantage of energy-efficient, renewable materials,” she said.
HAC first pitched its idea for this residential project 10 years ago and it was immediately contested by neighbors who worried about bringing formerly homeless men and women into the neighborhood. It took seven years of litigation and appeals, but an agreement was finally reached in January 2007.
For the past two years, HAC has been working on securing the necessary permits and raising the funds to build the project. Ms. Ryan said the delay in the project has actually proven to be a good thing, and has given officials at HAC an opportunity to fine-tune the vision for this project.
“Ten years ago, there was not the emphasis on the green portion of the project that we have today. Unfortunately, it has taken us 10 years, but on the other hand, this green aspect is a very positive change,” Ms. Ryan said.
She said inasmuch as Community Green will be about providing homes and job training for people in need, it will also be about educating the community. She said once the houses are completed, they will be open to the public for touring, so that people can see what an “off the grid” house looks like and how it performs.
On Tuesday, Curio House, which had been disassembled after the decathlon ended, was delivered by three separate tractor-trailers to a storage facility in Bourne. Having purchased it for $150,000 with funding coming from money donated specifically for this cause, HAC is still waiting for permits from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection for a wastewater treatment facility. After that the house can be moved to its permanent location.
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