When Scott Gilbert, president of Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley, describes how his team works, he pulls from the modern Japanese concept of kaizen, or “change for better.” This commitment to continuous improvement, made famous in business circles by Toyota (with whom Gilbert previously worked), fits the organization to a tee.
“We have used kaizen to inspire our team to be better and better at our daily work and outcomes, and to raise our sights as to what we could achieve.” It’s worked so well, he says, that “We have, quite frankly, even surprised ourselves.”
Not only do they aim to create more affordable housing more quickly, increasingly the organization wants to build the most affordable green homes possible.
So when Habitat RFV decided that it was time to build a “forever home” for its ReStore retail operations in Glenwood Springs — giving themselves the kind of permanence that they deliver to their clients — one of their first phone calls was to CORE. Having worked with our organization in years past, they understood the value of early technical expertise and grant feasibility to figure out how they could create the tightest build for their budget, with energy efficiency and renewable energy at the top of their list.
“We knew if we were building a home for ourselves, green would have to be a part of it,” added construction manager Dana Dalla Betta.
Sustainable building wasn’t always on the radar for Habitat. But over the last several years, the organization evolved from simply using green practices to being at the forefront of the movement in affordable housing. The local team pioneered a net zero home (buildings that produce as much energy as they consume) in Rifle in 2011, followed by a LEED Platinum home in Carbondale in 2013. Solar panels now top 14 of the 25 homes they have built in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Building with efficiency and sustainability in mind became part of their long-term goal when they realized, as Dalla Betta describes, “If we can lower our clients’ carry costs — what they pay in utilities — then it remains affordable in the long-term for them.”
Another light bulb moment occurred when leaders recognized that the same would be true of their proposed 40,500-square foot ReStore: any savings harvested from lower operating costs would be funnelled into their homebuilding fund, allowing them to better realize their mission to create housing. Green building could pay for itself, and then some.
Habitat’s Design team (including Green Line Architects and SGM Engineers) was leaning toward a pre-engineered metal building as a cost-effective building type. However, steel structures, notoriously lousy in the thermal performance department, suffer from air loss and thermal bridging (temperature being conducted through the building material, in this case, steel) at the structural ribs. The standard insulation package for a steel facility includes only batt blanket insulation between the posts, which tends to compress upon contact with the steel structure. The upshot? The usefulness of the insulation is canceled out.
Working with CORE’s Grants Director Marty Treadway, who brings a building performance trifecta to the table (an architecture degree, a former contractor’s license and Certified Energy Manager certificate), the team brainstormed ideas to improve on the shortcomings of steel structures. Ultimately, they decided to wrap the exterior in continuous, rigid insulation to meet both the energy goals and the building manufacturers’ constraints. The result is a solution that will minimize heat loss and improve the overall tightness of the envelope. Kaizen!
This no-cost technical advising was just the surface of the CORE-Habitat collaboration. Over the course of three years, Treadway guided Habitat to apply for CORE funding: a $12,000 Design Assistance Grant for a feasibility study and two Randy Udall Energy Pioneer matching grants totalling $200,000 for a 50-kilowatt rooftop solar photovoltaic system and the building envelope improvements.
“Without CORE’s grant funding, we wouldn’t have been able to finance the costs of the energy efficiency improvements,” said Dalla Betta. The grant for the building envelope reduced Habitat’s capital costs, brought the payback down to an attractive five-year period, and leveraged financing from lenders.
Habitat broke ground on its new ReStore in March and hopes to open its doors early next year. Annual energy savings for the facility are anticipated to roll in at $24,000, which will be reinvested in their homebuilding fund. One hundred thirty thousand kilowatt hours of electricity and 13,500 therms of natural gas are also on the chopping block, helping to lower the carbon footprint of building footprint, which comes in just under an acre.
“The support and encouragement from CORE can’t be underestimated,” says Dalla Betta. She describes the nonprofit as “a great advocate and partner in helping push us further than we might have on our own.” Could this be continuous improvement at work? We’re betting that Gilbert, the kaizen disciple, would say yes.
Did You Know?
CORE annually awards more than $600,000 in grants for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in the Roaring Fork Valley and offers free technical and financial advising. If you have a commercial, institutional or industrial development project (new construction or retrofit) that you would like to explore, please reach out — as early in the process as possible — to Marty Treadway at 970.925.9775 ext. 504. Learn more about CORE’s grant program here and note the deadlines: Design Assistance and Community Grants are rolling, while TRUE Pioneer (The Randy Udall Energy) Grants is May 1. CORE also offers a Net Zero Home grant for homeowners, also with a rolling deadline.