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Detroit's Green Movement

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

Habitat for Humanity is contributing to rebuilding Detroit using sustainable or "green" residential construction. The houses built for participating families use energy-efficient appliances such as tankless water heaters and are Green Built Michigan Certified while also maintaining affordability. Find out what Detroit's green movement means to the success of Detroit's comeback.

Reusing Vacant Lots

The use of older lots by infilling for building helps improve depressed neighborhoods. Instead of building new subdivisions, an older lot is used to construct a home thereby increasing the residency rate of an area to help rebuild an older community This also reduces the impact on lands that are still undeveloped or pristine.

Concrete Backfill

The recycling of unneeded concrete from demolished buildings is used under the foundation before concrete is poured. This crushed concrete helps stabilize the home from settling providing added value to the home's warranty.

Plant Preparation

Prior to construction, the vegetation on the lot is assessed. Any trees or shrubs on the building area are removed and made into wood chips for onsite landscaping use with extra wood chips shared with the neighborhood. Lumber scraps from home construction that are not treated with harmful chemicals are also put through the onsite wood chipper. Trees or shrubs to be impacted by construction but not removed are given special treatment to preserve them until construction is completed. During construction, the top of layer of soil is removed. If the topsoil is not environmentally harmful due to previous misuse, it is kept for future landscaping to ensure proper growth of future grass or garden plantings. Harmful topsoil is replace with safe nutrient-rich soil.

Efficient Building

Floor plans are designed to make nearly every square inch available for use, thereby avoiding areas that must be heated or cooled but are not livable, such as areas trapped behind walls or otherwise inaccessible. Framing techniques are designed to use the least amount of lumber while still maintaining structural integrity. Interior building consists of drywall and carpeting made from recycled materials. Low volatile organic compound (VOC) paints and sealants are used and both the walls and attic are well insulated. Energy Star requirements are met for all appliances (e.g., refrigerator, water heater, oven, furnace) to ensure their use uses the least amount of energy. Energy Star-rated windows are also used to maintain even house temperatures.

Building is overseen and approved by an independent third party to obtain the Green Built Michigan certification. Providing affordable housing using sustainable construction methods and primarily nontoxic materials builds happy and healthy households which form the base of stable neighborhoods. Residents who don't have to pay all their income in rent and utility bills due to affordable and efficiently built housing have more expendable money to spend locally helping rebuild Detroit's economy.

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