November 2012 | Habitat for Humanity is leading the way in building sustainable and affordable homes for low-income families. Recognizing high utility costs can make homeownership difficult for low-income families, in 2008 Habitat for Humanity of Minnesota created the Sustainable Building Program (SBP) to save energy, decrease utility costs, and improve the quality of living for Habitat homeowners. As a result, families save an average of $285 in annual heating costs.
Since the inception of SBP, Greater Minnesota Habitat affiliates have built 87 homes that meet stringent Green Communities Criteria, including extensive air sealing and insulation, whole-house ventilation design, and high-efficiency space and water heating equipment. Ninety-four percent of Habitat homes in Greater Minnesota in this year's pipeline will also be built to these standards.
Using the Home Energy Rating System (HERS), a measurement of home energy use, Habitat for Humanity homes in Minnesota score an average of 64. Typical existing homes score around 130, new homes score 100, and ENERGY STAR homes must score 70 or less. The average Habitat for Humanity home saves 35% in energy use over most new homes, and saves 65% in energy use compared to most of their neighbors' homes. Using less energy helps Habitat homeowners save more money.
Before partnering with Habitat for Humanity, the Corcoran family frequently moved from one substandard living situation to another. "We basically bounced around from homes that were unsafe, had no insulation, and made our utility bills really high," recall Danielle and Nick. After a big wind storm destroyed the roof of their rental home, the Corcoran couple decided to seek out alternative housing options. They, along with their two young children, moved into their new Habitat home in June 2011.
Proud Habitat homeowners, the Corcorans say one of the best parts about moving into their new home is the financial stability and consistency of their mortgage payments and utility bills. "We paid more for heat at our last house than we now pay for our mortgage here in a month," Nick states. "Our electric bill is also cut in half, and our heat bill is about a tenth of what it was." The family had heating bills as high as $500 in their other apartment, and they still felt cold air drafts. They used government assistance to help pay for the steep energy bills, but they no longer have to use that support in their new Habitat home.
Through volunteer labor and donations of money and materials, Habitat builds and rehabilitates simple, decent houses in partnership with low-income families. Habitat houses are sold to the partner families at no profit and financed with 0% interest loans. The homeowners' mortgage payments are used to build more Habitat houses. In addition to a down payment and mortgage payments, a homeowner invests hundreds of hours of labor — sweat equity — into building their Habitat house and the houses of others. 2,000 Habitat homes have been built and purchased by families' statewide, providing shelter for over 8,000 Minnesotans.
A recent Homeowner Impact Study by Habitat for Humanity of Minnesota found:
- 62% of Habitat homeowners surveyed who indicated having a respiratory illness (allergies, asthma, etc.) reported that their illness improved after moving into their Habitat home.
- 56% of Habitat homeowners surveyed said their children's grades improved.
- There were reductions in the use of food support (31%), welfare assistance (73%), medical assistance (11%), and energy assistance (29%).
- 91% of respondents feel more positive about the future.
- 69% spend more quality time with their family.
- 95% believe Habitat contributed a lot or completely to the changes in their families' lives.
Habitat for Humanity of Minnesota, Inc., (HFH-MN) is a state-wide resource development and support organization that serves, advocates for, and advances the work of Minnesota's Habitat for Humanity affiliates to build simple, decent, affordable housing in partnership with people in need. HFH-MN was established in 1997 as a collaborative effort with the 32 Minnesota Habitat affiliates to serve more families statewide.