Although the number of sustainable construction projects has grown significantly across the United States during the past several years, it remains unfortunately uncommon to hear the word “affordable” associated with sustainable development. The Marion County Housing Authority (MCHA) of Oregon is challenging the myth that sustainable construction can't be affordable.
In early 2006, MCHA broke ground on Hazelwood Estates, a cozy, 32-unit, senior community built on a former hazelnut orchard in Woodburn, Ore. The coziness of this multifamily project is due partially to the insulating concrete forms (ICFs) that make up the exterior walls for the entire property.
Because of the mass of concrete, the passage of heat moving through the walls is slowed. This means the temperatures within the walls of Hazelwood Estates will stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than with traditional construction.
Although Woodburn is surrounded by acres and acres of farmland in the moderate climate of the Willamette Valley, just 35 minutes to the south of Portland and 20 miles north of its Marion-county sister city of Sale, energy efficiency is still a major consideration.
“We don’t have the extreme heat like Texas or extreme cold like in New England,” said MCHA Executive Director Dennis Kilfoil. “But the increasing cost of fuel is driving up energy prices even in our moderate climate. Keeping utility costs low is critical for affordable housing projects like Hazelwood Estates.”
In addition to the benefit of energy efficiency, Kilfoil says the residents of Hazelwood Estates can take advantage of the additional benefits of ICF construction.“They love the thick windowsills ICFs provide. It gives them extra space to display their knick-knacks and other collectibles. Plus the ICF walls help muffle neighborhood noises, providing a tranquil oasis for all residents.”
An unexpected benefit of ICF was realized in insurance costs.Kilfoil was surprised to find that ICF construction’s fire-resistant properties would save MCHA even more money. Property insurance for Hazelwood Estates was down significantly compared to MCHA’s similar-sized properties.
Financed primarily with state and federal grants and loans, MCHA works with builders, local banks, and a variety of other community partners to build and maintain affordable housing to match with eligible families and individuals. Rents at Hazelwood Estates run from $448 to $591 per month and its residents must meet certain low-income requirements to become tenants.
Kilfoil remembers when the general contractor suggested using ICFs during the planning stages. He knew it could be done within budget and was convinced the up-front, short-term costs would pay off in the long-term.
MCHA also considered the future, the likely long-term holding, operation and maintenance costs when planning Hazelwood Estates. MCHA builds projects meant to last 50 to 60 years and will own them in perpetuity.
Consequently, ICF walls plus 50-year-rated fiber-cement siding will decrease MCHA’s maintenance costs over the long-term. Both products provide unrivaled durability—a hallmark of true sustainability.
“Too many building projects focus on ‘cosmetic’ sustainability,” said John Arroyo, executive director of the Northwest Cement Promotion Group. “Projects like Hazelwood Estates are looking at building performance over the long-term and that’s what sustainable construction is all about.”
It was this forward-thinking approach that caused Arroyo to nominate Kilfoil for the 2008 PCA Sustainable Leadership Awards. These awards honor public officials who utilize cement or cement-based products to achieve sustainable benefits.
“I was impressed with Dennis’s open-mindedness during a time when most senior housing, affordable housing and even assisted-care facilities meet only minimum building code requirements in order to reduce initial costs,” said Arroyo.
Arroyo also noted that MCHA’s choice to use ICFs is a novel concept in the Pacific Northwest where ICFs have typically been used only for expensive, custom homes within the residential market segment.
“It turned out to be great looking project and we’re very, very pleased with it,” added Kilfoil. So much so that MCHA is considering ICFs for its next project in Kaiser, Ore.
Developer: Hazeldel Seniors Limited Partnership - Marion County Housing Authority, General Partner
Architects:Bergsund and Delaney Architecture & Planning, P.C. Contractor: Tri-Vest, LLC General Contractors
Sponsors: National Equity Fund, Oregon Housing and Community Services, Wells Fargo Bank, Network for Oregon Affordable Housing (NOAH), and The Department of Housing & Urban Development