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Auburn University Students Design and Construct Two Homes for Local Habitat for Humanity

October 23, 2019

“Decent housing is not just a wish, it is a human right,” says former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who believes we’re “morally obligated” to help people obtain a proper place to live. The longtime Habitat for Humanity volunteer would be proud of the Auburn University students providing affordable housing to families in need.

In 2018 and 2019, students designed and constructed two Auburn-Opelika Habitat for Humanity homes in Opelika that are not only affordable, but energy-efficient and severe weather resistant. Over 75 students were involved, along with local Habitat volunteers and the recipients of the homes.

The project is a partnership among Auburn University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture (led by Professor David Hinson), the McWhorter School of Building Science (led by Professor Mike Hosey) and AU’s Rural Studio program (led by Assistant Research Professor Mackenzie Stagg).

Hinson’s collaboration with Habitat for Humanity goes back to 2001 when DesignAlabama asked him to get involved. “I owe the legacy of my partnership with Habitat to DesignAlabama.”

Known as the Habitat/20K Performance Homes, the houses are based on one built in 2017 that is part of the Rural Studio’s 20K Initiative, which was created to design homes for west Alabama that cost no more than $20,000. Students took this basic design and improved energy performance and achieved FORTIFIED Home™, an insurance industry standard to help strengthen homes against severe weather.

The actual energy cost to operate the Habitat/20K homes will be monitored. The two homes were built to slightly different standards to allow for balance when comparing how much money was put into each house and how much saved over a one-year period and the life of the house. Computer-generated models predict an annual savings of 60 to 75 percent in energy costs compared to a home built to current code requirements.

Katherine Ferguson, a 2019 Auburn graduate, was part of the team that built the 2018 Habitat house. She is now working on her master’s through AU’s architecture school at Rural Studio studying public interest design. “One of the most impactful processes of this design build project was working with an actual client,” says Ferguson. “Most undergraduate students don’t interact with a client during their time in school, so being able to learn how the client-architect relationship works was vital to our growth as architecture students… Because we had a personal relationship with the client, we worked to design the most cost-effective home to hopefully benefit her long term.”

Emma Porter, a fourth year Architecture & Interior Architecture student at AU, was part of the team that produced the 2019 house. The project gave her real life construction experience and a better understanding of building systems and details. “We were all coming from different backgrounds of knowledge on construction, but all eager to learn and produce a high quality and well thought out design. I love how our exterior skin and porch design came out; the studio put a lot of thought and effort in trying out different ideas and collaborating until we decided on the final design.”

Image 1 -The actual energy cost to operate the Habitat/20K homes (the 2019 home seen here) will be monitored. Computer-generated models predict an annual savings of 60 to 75 percent in energy costs compared to a home built to current code requirements.

Image 2- Students peek out of the spaces of the 2019 house during its framing stage. The project is a partnership among Auburn University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, the McWhorter School of Building Science and AU’s Rural Studio program.

Image 3- Known as the Habitat/20K Performance Homes, the Opelika houses are based on one built in 2017 that is part of the Rural Studio’s 20K Initiative, which was created to design homes that cost no more than $20,000. Students completed this house in 2018.

Image 4- In 2018 and 2019, students designed and constructed two Auburn-Opelika Habitat for Humanity homes in Opelika that are not only affordable, but energy-efficient and severe weather resistant. Students gather in front of the 2018 house.

Image 5- More than 75 students were involved in the two Habitat houses in Opelika. Local Habitat volunteers and the recipients of the homes also pitched in to help, including the family that now lives in this home built in 2019.

*Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of David Hinson, Mackenzie Stagg and Matt Hall