Group plans to build self-help homes for local residents

James Pletcher, Jr. | Herald Standard | August 9, 2013

One program in Fayette County helps people buy a home paying for part of it with what is commonly called sweat equity – the self-help housing program.

Threshold Housing Development Inc. of Uniontown is currently constructing seven homes in Republic in Redstone Township. The development, Three Oaks subdivision, will consist of Energy Star homes under the Energy Star Qualified Homes Program operated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Threshold Housing was established in 1991 through a partnership with the Fayette County Community Action Agency and Community Action Southwest to provide safe, affordable housing.

According to Bruce Hotchkiss, president of Threshold Housing, each home is built according to energy standards that give them the Energy Star rating.

To meet “Energy Star’’ guidelines set by the U.S. EPA, a home must be at least 15 percent more energy efficient than homes built to the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).
Specific features in the homes include:

  • R-19 insulation in the walls with two-by-six framing.
  • R-30 insulation in the ceiling over the garage.
  • High performance, low-E coated windows.
  • R-8 duct insulation in unheated areas.
  • Water heater with a heat pump.

The first Energy Star home was built in Mountain View Estates, Fairchance, a split-entry, 1,700-square foot home that Threshold Housing Development Inc. of Uniontown constructed, in cooperation with the Fayette County Community Action Agency. The West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund, based in State College, provided funding for the project.

Hotchkiss said the Three Oaks subdivision will include seven homes. Six are already sold under the self-help program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program. “The seventh house is being built as a market or spec home for sale to the general public,” Hotchkiss said.

“Our homes that we build pass the energy efficiency before we get to Energy Star. We also are using their water heater, instead of traditional electric or gas. This one has a heat pump so it is extracting heat from around the air.

“People are approved who are interested in being in the program. If they do, then USDA actually issues them a mortgage. They must also put in 30 volunteer hours a week labor on the home. It doesn’t have to be a member of the family but it could be someone else. Homes are inspected to verify that all requirements were met to satisfy EPA guidelines for the Energy Star title.

“The USDA grants a mortgage in amount of $100,000. All the homes might look slightly different, different colors, so every home is not exactly the same. All are split level entry.

They have three bedrooms, two baths and an open floor plan for living and dining areas.
Underneath is a two-car garage with an unfinished area. Hotchkiss said there are two other mortgages on the home in addition to the one from USDA.

“One is a deferred mortgage from the Redevelopment Authority of Fayette County and Threshold has a forgivable mortgage. Neither of these is paid on like the USDA mortgage. That one is for 33 years and the owner must start paying on it as soon as the house is completed.

“What we do is, if you hang onto the home for a minimum of 10 years, we forgive our loan. The redevelopment authority says if you sell the home, then you have to pay back their mortgage. It doesn’t make any difference how long you live in the home before selling it,” Hotchkiss said.

He added that West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund is a source of funding for the project. “We are getting some funding from them to make these homes energy star compliant,” he added.

A spokesman for the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund administrator, said the Energy Star house is an example of how homeowners can use technology and improved construction techniques to lower their energy bills while improving the overall quality of their home.

“We have been working on this type of vision for some time. We hope that future homeowners insist their homes are built to these Energy Star standards.”

Two more people have been approved for the program that will start next spring. “We only do six homes at a time so people have the opportunity to complete the home rather than have to do it all at one time,“ Hotchkiss said.

For more information on Threshold Housing and the Energy Star program, call 724-437-9080.

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