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U.Va. Architecture School’s Green Housing Projects Receive Top Energy-Saving Marks

The Passive House Institute U.S. has awarded ecoMOD South, a grant-funded initiative of the University of Virginia’s ecoMOD Project, its Passive House Standard certification – the most rigorous energy standard available for buildings in the United States – for two recently completed homes.

ecoMOD and ecoREMOD are education and research initiatives of U.Va.’s School of Architecture and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Their goals are simple: to design and build sustainable and highly energy-efficient modular and renovated housing units for affordable housing organizations.

One of the program’s most recent projects, ecoMOD South, began in 2011, when the ecoMOD project received half of a $2.45 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission Indemnification & Community Revitalization Commission to commercialize a version of a home that the ecoMOD4 student team designed in 2009 for Habitat for Humanity. The grant was structured to transform that design into a four-bedroom home that aspired to be the first truly affordable Passive House Standard modular home in the U.S.

(For information about the project, see this previous U.Va. Today story about it winning the 2013 Architect Magazine R&D Award.)

“The multi-year partnership we put together for ecoMod South with the help of Phil Parrish, associate vice president for research in the Office of the Vice President for Research, was an extraordinary experience,” said John Quale, project director for ecoMOD /ecoREMOD and associate professor in the Architecture School.

“It was particularly successful because we were able to commercialize one of our designs – and achieve both high performance and low cost.”

The Southside Outreach Group, a nonprofit community housing development organization in South Boston, currently owns one of the ecoMOD South homes. People Incorporated, one of Virginia’s largest community action agencies, located in Abingdon, owns the other.

Another ecoMOD project, the ecoREMOD1 house at 608 Ridge St. in Charlottesville, also recently won recognition. It was awarded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design “platinum” certification, the highest rating given by the United States Green Building Council for achievement in green homebuilding and design.

ecoREMOD1, designed and funded by the city of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia with the support of a host of community partners, transformed a formerly neglected historic home into an innovative energy demonstration house between 2009 and 2011. The house was in a state of neglect and disrepair when the city purchased it in 2007.

ecoREMOD1 is one of two local homes that have received LEED platinum certification, and one of 10 local homes with any level of LEED certification.

The only other LEED platinum home in Charlottesville is the accessory dwelling unit of ecoMOD3, a detached rental home behind a historic house in the Fifeville/Castle Hill neighborhood. That project, at 398 square feet, is also the smallest LEED-certified building of any kind in the world.

LEED for Homes is a green home certification program that rewards homes designed and built to be energy- and resource-efficient. LEED-certified homes complete a technically rigorous process that includes a home energy rating and onsite inspections to verify that the home is built to be energy- and water-efficient, environmentally sound and a healthy place to live.

“The recent news about both the LEED Platinum and Passive House certifications is great for our former students who helped lead these efforts – and a testament to their hard work,” Quale said.

The ecoREMOD1 project was substantially rehabilitated through a partnership between the city, ecoREMOD and Alloy Workshop, known for its expertise in energy-efficiency renovations, as well as through a donation by Dominion Virginia Power. The Local Energy Alliance Program was also a major sponsor and participant in helping with the energy work.

The challenge for the partnership was to preserve the home’s historic character, optimize energy and water efficiency and incorporate real, economically viable strategies in the process.

“The partnership with the city of Charlottesville and Alloy Workshop on ecoREMOD1 was one of the most successful we’ve had over the years,” Quale said. “It was an excellent experience for the architecture, engineering and architectural history students who participated.”

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