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Habitat Breaks Poverty Cycles with Solar

Credits: ©2010 Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity International is dedicated to the cause of eliminating poverty housing. Since its founding in 1976, Habitat has built more than 350,000 houses worldwide, providing simple, decent and affordable shelter for more than 1.5 million people. Last year, Habitat for Humanity announced plans to build 5,000 green homes around the US for low-income families. These homes would be built over five years, and would meet EnergyStar guidelines or other green building standards, like LEED - whether features include extra insulation in the attic or solar powered hot water heaters. Although green building carriers higher upfront costs (approximately $5,000 for an EnergyStar and LEED certified home) due to the extra materials as well as the certification process itself and extra training, it’s worth it in the long run. Increasing the typical Habitat home price tag of $75,000 by a mere five grand allows families to enjoy a rapid payback in terms of lower energy bills. From new energy-efficient water heaters and weather stripping to programmable thermostats and low-flow toilets and solar panels, families see immediate savings in their monthly utility bills. Knowing a family can afford to maintain and live in these new homes for years to come means so much to these new homeowners and to these communities.


Habitat Solar Hot Water Berea KY

Sun Wind Power, Inc. installed this solar water heating system on a Berea, Kentucky, home for Habitat for Humanity, working with the Kentucky Solar Partnership and project manager Andy McDonald. ©2010 Sun Wind Power, Inc.

Habitat Helps by Bringing Solar to Armenia
People in poverty often spend a greater part of their family income on energy services than wealthy households. In Armenia, rural communities in remote areas are particularly vulnerable due to the exorbitant costs associated with connecting to an energy grid. An average 20 percent of household energy use is for heating water. Families in need often barely produce enough hot water for their basic needs. Water is heated with homemade immersion electrical boilers and by burning wood in makeshift ovens. Immersion electrical boilers are extremely dangerous, especially for children: there is a constant threat of electric shock or explosion. In addition to these safety concerns, the boilers consume astronomical levels of electrical energy and are scarcely affordable for an average Armenian family, with a monthly household income of US$150-180. Wood-burning, kerosene and diesel oil heaters lead to health problems as well as degraded local forests.

According to the national gas supplier ArmRusGasArd, about 70 percent of the Armenian population has access to a natural gas supply; of Habitat’s partner families, only 5 percent have access.

Expanding on its work to eliminate poverty housing, Habitat Armenia is introducing a traditionally expensive technology to vulnerable households: solar panels. Armenia has on average 300 sunny days per year, so using solar energy makes for a logical—and environmentally sound—alternative to other forms of energy. Quick and easy to install and maintain, the unique solar-powered systems will give affordable hot water access to 127 vulnerable households.

Families will repay the cost of the system in less than 8 years; once installed, families have no further recurring costs for heating water. 12 communities will be educated in clean energy sources, raising awareness of the positive effectives on income, health, education and the environment.

There is potential to scale this project up to reach more than 10,000 households throughout Armenia as well as easily replicate across the region and establish solar heating systems to the wider Armenian market. This project is an innovative commercial-non-profit partnership: a pioneer in social business.

Project Highlights

• Sustainable solar water heater systems will be installed into 127 safe, decent, affordable homes

• Families will save 20 percent of monthly household income in electricity costs

• Health complaints will be reduced

• Families will use 1.5 cubic meters less wood per year

• Sale of renewable energy systems will increase by 5 percent

• Clean energy awareness in our communities will increase

• By using the sun to heat water, a family will save an average of US$252 per year; that is equal to 740 loaves of bread, 222 kilos of tomatoes, or 55.5 kilos of meat.

Habitat Builds Solar Housing for Oakland, California
Habitat for Humanity is turning one Oakland brownfield into several green homes as part of its ongoing East Bay Project. With help from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and a slew of volunteers, Habitat is building a 54-home development of affordable housing for low-income homeowners. The development site, a former battery salvage yard, was labeled a “blighted property” by the EPA and California’s Department of Toxic Substances.

Yet that did not stop Habitat For Humanity. Roughly 300,000 cubic yards of soil had to be removed and replaced, but you can bet the effort will be worth it for the new residents of Edes Avenue.

Some features of the green homes include:

• Solar power panels

• Double-thick concrete foundation for thermal insulation

• Passive solar design eliminates the need for air conditioning

• Exposed stained concrete floor, which both adds to passive solar design and saves on other flooring materials

• Concrete is 40 percent fly ash content, which lends added durability and requires less energy to manufacture

• Use of blown-in cellulose insulation made of recycled paper scraps for a tight thermal barrier within wood-framed walls

• Milgard fiberglass windows

• Rinnai on-demand hot water heaters

• Compact fluorescent lighting

• No or low-VOC paints throughout.

PG&E's Solar Habitat Program
Pacific Gas & Electric’s Solar Habitat Program in California is a partnership between PG&E and Habitat for Humanity International to fund the full cost of solar electric systems on every Habitat-built home in northern and central California. The first-of-its-kind partnership brings solar energy to families with limited incomes, furthering PG&E’s commitment to provide affordable, renewable energy in the communities it serves.

Since the program began in 2005, PG&E has provided more than $2 million dollars to Habitat for Humanity affiliates in northern and central California to fund solar installations. In addition to lowering energy bills for these families through solar technology, this program seeks to promote energy literacy throughout underserved communities and increase enrollment in PG&E's free energy assistance programs for low-income families.

The solar panels installed on Habitat-homes generate nearly 300kWh of clean, renewable energy from sunlight each month, saving the families approximately $500 a year on energy costs. Each panel will also help avoid the release of more than 132,000 pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over the 30-year life of the system.

In addition to solar panels, PG&E provides resources to Habitat affiliates to help them build green, with the eventual goal of having each home LEED certified.

Habitat Powers Washington Home with Solar
From the Kitsap Sun -

Up until a few weeks ago, Felicia Oliver-Johnson always ran out of hot water when pouring baths for her five children in their small Poulsbo apartment.

But since moving March 27 into her Habitat for Humanity home in Suquamish with its state-of-the-art solar water heater, the 24-year-old single mother said she can run the dishwasher and clothes washer and pour baths — all at the same time — without the water ever turning cold.

“We’ve never run out of hot water yet,” she said proudly.

Oliver-Johnson’s new home is the first Habitat-sponsored residence in Washington State to have solar energy.

The solar water heater, which costs approximately $7,500 in materials alone, was a gift. “It’s not normally something we would install,” Lori Oberlander, Kitsap Habitat executive director, said.

The solar water heater was provided by Community Energy Solutions, a local nonprofit dedicated to advancing sustainable energy practices, with funding help from the Humanlinks Foundation and Grace Episcopal Church on Bainbridge Island. Sun Wind Concepts provided the installation.

Joe Deets, Community Energy Solutions executive director, said solar hot water systems make sense for everyone, especially those with limited incomes.

“A family in need can really benefit from this type of system,” Deets said. “Heating water is a huge part of any utility bill — easily 25 percent. Solar water heaters really lower utility bills... and can help families afford to stay in their homes.”

Deets explained that Oliver-Johnson’s hot water system has an electric component that “kicks in” as needed, such as on absolute gray days. But even a little sunlight can provide a full day of hot water — in part because the system reacts to light and not heat, and energy is stored in an insulated tank.

The water heater soon will be operating at peak capacity.

From May through September, the Puget Sound area gets a daily average of 5.22 hours of sunlight.

The family previously lived in a low-income, subsidized apartment with three bedrooms and one bathroom for her sons, ages 5, 3 and 2, and her two sisters she has adopted, ages 10 and 8. Three years ago, Oliver-Johnson landed a job at the Marion Forsman-Boushie Early Learning Center in Suquamish. The job turned out to be a mixed blessing. With the new income, her rent skyrocketed, and other program assistance diminished or disappeared altogether.

At the urging of her mother, Oliver-Johnson applied for a home through Habitat for Humanity, and soon learned that Habitat intended to build the home in Suquamish, near her workplace and where her children attend school.

Ground broke on Oliver-Johnson’s home last July 18.

The home was built with funding from the Gavel & Hammer Society, a group of Kitsap lawyers who support Habitat, and by members of the community who volunteered more than 2,700 hours of labor. Wenzlau Architects of Bainbridge Island provided the blueprints.

Oliver-Johnson invested more than 420 hours of Habitat-required “sweat equity” by working both on her home’s construction and another Habitat home nearby. She also completed a Habitat homeowner education program, including a class on home maintenance which covered a range of topics from caring for hardwood floors to handling plumbing problems.

Habitat on 22 May 2010 (broke) ground on property next to the Oliver-Johnsons. According to Deets, there is a verbal agreement between Kitsap Habitat and Community Energy Solutions to provide a solar water heater for the second home as well.

The partnership is a good one, Deets reported, and supports his group’s mission to advance clean energy sources.

“We sometimes forget that solar energy is so freely available to us,” he said, “but it’s a solution that literally comes up every day.”

Solar-Powered Habitat Home in Alabama Is a Hit
By THOMAS SPENCER, Birmingham News 2008 - When Diana Higley received the first electricity bill for her solar-powered Habitat for Humanity home in Tuscumbia, she was shocked. Instead of owing the power company, the company owed her. "I'm waiting for my next power bill," she said. "I used to dread it and now I am looking forward to it."

The energy-efficient Habitat home was the brainchild of University of North Alabama students, who organized the project, applied for grants and helped build it along with volunteers from the Shoals Chapter of Habitat. Higley lives in the three-bedroom house with her three grandchildren.

The house has 11 solar panels and a solar water heater. It was built with special insulation, rigid Styrofoam construction materials, and was outfitted with energy-efficient appliances and fixtures.

The home has been rated as 59 percent more energy efficient than a typical house and was awarded a 5 Star Plus rating from Energy Star, the highest energy-efficiency rating a building can earn.

A typical Habitat home in the Shoals costs $45,000 to build, but Higley's three-bedroom house cost $90,000 with all the green upgrades. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs pitched in $26,000 from a federal grant program for energy-efficient improvements to housing for low-income residents. The Tennessee Valley Authority also contributed $20,000 to help make the project a reality.

In its first 45 days of occupancy, the home generated 250 kilowatts of solar power and used 292 kilowatts of power. Served by TVA's Sheffield Utilities, the house is connected to the power grid and excess solar power is sold to the utility for 15 cents per kilowatt hour. During the period covered by Higley's first bill, TVA charged about 10 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity consumed by the home, resulting in a bill of -$6.30.

Wisconsin Habitat Embraces Solar
In 2009 seven homes in Harambee, Wisconsin, got solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that produce electricity, as well as 18 solar thermal systems that supplement hot water heating using solar. The PV installation was a collaborative project among WisconsinHabitat for Humanity, WE Energies, and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. The MREA utilized this partnership for a three-day advanced PV training installation class in Milwaukee. The training participants had previous classes and experience in the solar field, which was a prerequisite for participation, and included men and women from different fields, such as electricians, solar and wind installers, general contractors, and land surveyors.


  Habitat for Humanity Solar Home (Denver, Colorado, USA) (867 kb)


Habitat for Humanity International