The $287-million project to replace family housing at Keesler Air Force Base after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was not only the largest housing construction project in Air Force history. It also became what was at the time the largest project in the country to receive Leadership in Environment Design (LEED) Silver certification for advances in energy conservation and other sustainable building practices.
More than 1,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed at Keesler out of a total of 1,800 units. Many of the units that weren’t damaged were old homes built in the 1950s to the 1970s that were in bad shape. So after Katrina, Keesler started over.
“We demolished everything and built 1,028 new homes,” said Brett Long, chief of capital asset management for housing at Keesler. “After the first 300 homes were built, we discovered we could go a little farther with energy conservation and get LEED Silver certified.”
That fit with Keesler’s intention to build homes not just healthy for residents, but ones that are good for the environment and the pocketbook.
“We like to encourage building green in ways that are better for the environment,” Long said. “That not only saves on the heating and cooling of the house, but makes a better home and a better living environment for our military members.”
Gaining the Silver LEED certification included measures such as using energy efficient windows and doors, good insulation, installing all Energy Star appliances and — one of the biggest factors — very efficient HVAC systems. The inside HVAC equipment is stored inside the garage or a closet so it doesn’t have to work as hard.
They also used CFL light bulbs and even took measures such as reusing all the concrete from the old home sites. The former foundations were ground up, crushed and put back into roads as bedding.
They also used low flow toilets, faucets and showerheads to save water and energy. Annual water savings alone from those measures is estimated at $100 per year.
Windows are not just energy efficient, but have a glazed protection rated for 140-mile per hour winds.
“These things also save on insurance,” Long said. “The stronger your home, obviously the better you are going to save on insurance, especially in the coastal situation.”
People love the new military housing.
“They say this is the nicest home they have ever lived in for military housing,” Long said. “People who returned to Keesler who lived in the previous housing are amazed at what we have done here. A lot of military families do recycle and are energy conservative, so they appreciate the work we have done for the LEED homes.”
There were many dark spots with Katrina, but the reconstruction of housing at Keesler after the storm was a bright spot. Long said it created an opportunity for Keesler to develop and build houses that are a model for the community and the country.
“We are proud to be a leader in the community,” Long said.
Also leading the way with LEED is Habitat for Humanity, whose Gulf Coast projects have shown that “green” homes can also be very economical.
“We are looking at the sustainability of home ownership,” said Adele Lyons, director of development and communications, Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast (HFHMGC). “The more energy-efficient and green we can build, the more affordable the house is for the long term. It costs a little more, but in the long run it absolutely pays for itself. We are generally building to standards of a Gold LEED house on each home we build. We are trying to build to that level all the time, but to get certified as a LEED house is expensive. So we may not certify every house we build that way. We built 22 homes last year and every one of them at least Energy Star rated.”
For new construction, windows are really important, said Doug Fowler, planning and design manager for HFHMGC.
“You can buy superior windows for not a lot more,” Fowler said. “The pricing on them has gotten much more competitive. Look at the solar heat gain coefficient—the number on the energy sticker on the window. It tells you how efficient the window is in keeping heat outside your home. That’s the most important thing in our climate. The lower that number, the better.”
With windows and other items like appliances, Fowler recommends looking for the government’s Energy Star ratings.
Fowler said for rehab, buying new windows might not be cost effective. But he definitely believes it is with new construction.
“Energy efficiency is a good place to put your money,” Fowler said. “There is good evidence of fast payoff. Here the things we do must have payback in five to ten years.”
He recommends a SEER 16 or better HVAC system and not forgetting about the importance of a good hot water heater. In a recent LEED home constructed by Habitat for Humanity in Pascagoula, they used a hybrid heat pump water heater. It is an electric water heater that functions more like an air conditioner.
“It is more expensive, but also three times more efficient than a regular water heater,” Fowler said. “On demand gas is very efficient, but we don’t put gas in our houses. Hybrids are some of the more efficient units you can buy. Prices are coming down. If you find one on sale, they make sense. About 40 percent of the electric bill is hot water heating. It is important.”
How Habitat did it
HFHMGC is anticipating LEED Silver certification on a recently completed home in Pascagoula. The features used to make this four-bedroom, two-bathroom home meet LEED criteria include the following:
>> Recycling program on site during the construction process
>> Spray foam insulation in the floor, walls, and attic cavity to create a highly insulated home
>> A long-lasting metal roof made partly of recycled material
>> Low water usage plumbing fixtures
>> A highly efficient heating and cooling system (16 SEER Heat Pump)
>> Energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to ensure that fresh air is brought into and circulated through the home
>> Rain gardens designed to capture, filter, and absorb stormwater
>> Hybrid heat pump hot water heater (three times more efficient than today’s standard hot water heater)
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