Mackenzie Stagg, David Hinson, Rusty Smith, & Betsy Farrell Garcia
Bruce Kitchell & Betsy Burnet
While the cost of operating homes is a concern for everyone, it is a particularly compounded burden for low-wealth families living in areas of rural persistent poverty. This paper describes a research initiative designed to seek the balance point between up-front investments in improved energy performance and home affordability in support of a pilot, systems-based approach to more affordable rural home ownership.
Rural residents have a higher energy burden when compared to the national average, and rural low-income households face a higher burden than their more affluent neighbors. Furthermore, the South has some of the nation’s lowest energy rates, yet has some of the nation’s highest energy bills and associated energy burdens (Ross). This is further exacerbated by an aging, and increasingly substandard, housing stock (Pendall).
Rural areas have higher rates of homeownership, with rural homeownership at 81.1%, compared to 59.8% in urban areas (Mazur). While home valuation in urban areas is most often based on land ownership, in rural areas home value is largely based on the leveragable asset of the house itself, which can be passed from generation to generation. Therefore, providing homes that are both durable and energy efficient is critical for maintaining housing affordability in rural areas, and developing an integrated approach that links financing mechanisms to housing performance is a key strategy to unlocking affordability.
In a design-build studio format, the authors and their students have revised and constructed multiple versions of the same small, two bedroom prototype home developed for the context of rural Alabama: one built to the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) standard and the other to the Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) standard. By constructing two identical prototypes on the same street, with similar orientation, but with differing energy-related details, the authors are able to evaluate the initial cost of construction associated with achieving these two performance standards while simultaneously comparing the monthly energy savings afforded by each approach.
Each home underwent a rigorous process of: 1) computational energy modeling during the design phase to test various envelope assemblies, 2) multiple blower door tests and thermal imaging at key points during construction to assess the specific efficacy of alternative approaches construction detailing, 3) verification of systems and envelope airtightness at the completion of construction, 4) long-term monitoring to evaluate actual post-occupancy energy use against that which was predicted in the initial design phase, and finally 5) post-occupancy engagement with the homeowner allowing for a deeper understanding of the design of end-user education programs that empower families to leverage the high-performance potential of their homes.
Ultimately, these findings provide an invaluable contribution to the authors’ broader research and development where, in partnership with federal agencies as well as mortgage and insurance providers, the team continues to explore the mechanisms to better integrate both the policies and products necessary to support a new paradigm of truly affordable homeownership to familes in the rural South who need it most.
Mazur, Christopher. “Homes on the Range: Homeownership Rates Are Higher in Rural America.” United States Census Bureau, 08 December 2016. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2016/12/homes_on_the_range.html
Pendall, Rolf, et al. The Future of Rural Housing. Urban Institute, October 2016. https://www.urban.org/research/publication/future-rural-housing/view/full_report. Accessed March 30, 2020.
Ross, Lauren, et al. The High Cost of Energy in Rural America: Household Energy Burdens and Opprortunities for Energy Efficiency. ACEEE, July 2018. https://www.aceee.org/sites/default/files/publications/researchreports/u1806.pdf. Accessed March 30, 2020.