Penn State students design affordable, eco-friendly homes for local families

An early model of the net-zero duplex by architecture students Nicole Harkins, Emily Lasota and Chris Sciulli.  Image: Tom Klimek

An early model of the net-zero duplex by architecture students Nicole Harkins, Emily Lasota and Chris Sciulli.
Image: Tom Klimek

A three-bedroom, two-bath duplex with an open-concept main level, back deck and view of Tussey Mountain might sound like the makings of a standard State College house. But this future listing isn’t for just any ordinary abode. The soon-to-be-built home might be the new model for affordable housing in Centre County.

When the State College Community Land Trust (SCCLT), a local nonprofit housing assistance organization, approached Penn State’s College of Arts and Architecture about designing an affordable, eco-friendly duplex for two local families, a team of faculty and student architects and engineers quickly made the project their mission.

After nearly a semester of sketching, creating digital renderings, combing through building materials and weighing costs, their design will come to life next year on University Drive, about a mile away from campus and downtown State College.

Until now, SCCLT has always purchased properties in the State College borough, fixed them up and sold only the houses (not the land itself) to approved first-time buyers. While the model has been successful for many years — and helped 50 local families — the land trust wanted to do something new to make mortgages and utility bills even more affordable for first-time buyers on tight budgets.

“For many people, energy costs can be a barrier to home ownership in a community that already has a shortage of affordable housing,” said Peg Hambrick, a volunteer and former president of SCCLT. “There’s a misconception that building a sustainable house is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be — and that’s what we’re trying to figure out with this GreenBuild initiative. It makes a lot of sense for our clients who might be able to afford a mortgage but not the high utility bills that come with it.”

By designing and building a net-zero home — which on an annual basis can reduce utility bills by producing as much energy as it consumes — the Penn State students and SCCLT are hoping to develop a prototype for accessible, eco-friendly housing throughout Centre County.

“As students, it was our job to dream up and design a home that will not only be affordable, but also sustainable, functional and beautiful for the families who will one day live there,” said Chauntel Duriez, a master’s student studying architecture. “A lot of the class projects we do as architecture students are designs for fictional clients, but this has been such an amazing experience because it’s going to have an impact on real people.”

Charrette for GreenBuild with SCCLT, Penn State Architecture, CCHLT, Hamer Center, PHRC

Penn State students gather feedback from SCCLT volunteers about the duplex design. Can you spot our Executive Director, Rachel Fawcett?
Image: Courtesy of Chauntel Duriez

Influenced by historic Pennsylvania architecture, the team drew inspiration from 19th-century bank barns for the exterior of the duplex. Often built into hillsides, these rectangular barns have steep roofs and can be accessed from both the lower and upper ground levels. On the inside, the students kept the space modern with an open concept and 1,440-square feet of living space per unit.

Through a special spring semester course offering, College of Arts and Architecture professors Lisa Iulo, Ali Memari and Scott Wing — all of whom have experience working on affordable, eco-friendly housing projects for Habitat for Humanity, Native American reservations and other organizations — mentored the team of 30 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students.

The class also worked with SCCLT staff and volunteers who know what first-time buyers want and need in a home.

In addition to lots of storage space, rooms that can serve multiple purposes and separate yards for each half of the duplex, SCCLT asked the student architects to design a home that would save on both initial construction and long-term energy costs.

“Our goal was to get to net zero in the most affordable way possible,” said Kyle Macht, the team’s leader and a master’s student in architecture. “The Centre County Housing & Land Trust and other groups are also interested in what we’re doing and looking to us for guidance. So, unlike other net-zero housing projects I’ve worked on, this duplex has to be accessible, durable, meet qualifications for affordable housing and be builder-ready.”

Read the full story by Lauren Ingram here.

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Centre County Housing and Land Trust strengthens communities through the development and stewardship of permanently affordable homes for people of low- to moderate-income in Centre County, PA. Since 2007, CCHLT has operated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit featuring the collaborative effort of five local organizations to focus on: promoting and preserving of affordable housing; providing education; creating partnerships; and assisting municipalities on affordable housing policies. More information about CCHLT and its programs is available at www.cchlt.org. Follow CCHLT on Twitter @CentreCountyHLT, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CCHLT, or sign up for updates on CCHLT’s Email List.

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