This is an archived article.

June 22, 2005

Architecture students to design and build experimental ‘green’ home for Yakima Valley family

Like a collegiate version of “Extreme Makeover – Home Edition,” University of Washington architecture students are preparing to build a four-bedroom home for a Yakima Valley family in just nine weekends.


The nine intensive work sessions – starting this weekend – will culminate in the first home ever owned by Vanessa Cervantes and her family.


“We’re really excited about it – it’s a great opportunity,” said Cervantes, an elementary school secretary who hopes to get a degree and become a guidance counselor. “While they’re building it, I’m going to be there as much as possible.”


Her new home in the town of Mabton – eight miles south of Sunnyside – will be the first of three such dwellings designed and built by UW students as a case study in how to create houses that are both ultra-affordable and ultra-efficient.


The Diocese of Yakima Housing Services is the developer, UW Yakima Valley Community Partnership is the community liaison, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance donated Ecotope consulting services, structural engineers Swenson Say Faget donated design services, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development granted $400,000 to the UW College of Architecture and Urban Planning for the interdisciplinary, three-year community based research and collaborative design program with on-site learning and demonstration housing models.


The 11 UW students and eight faculty will be joined by Seattle Central Community College carpentry students and faculty to make the post-and-beam frame at the college’s Wood Construction Center and then raise it at the Mabton homesite.


A visual climax should come the weekend of July 9-11, when those pieces rise to become the walls of Cervantes’ home. By Aug. 20-22, students should be applying the finishing touches.


But leading up to that was a year and a half of UW students’ research into the housing needs of Yakima Valley residents, workshops in the valley with 30 local residents and interviews with housing providers and property managers.


Cervantes needed a house big enough to accommodate partner Adrian Pedroza, a winery worker, and their boys Adrian Andrew, 3, and Brandon, 8.


“The Lower Yakima Valley has a critical shortage of affordable housing, especially for its underserved agriculture worker population, which is expanding with the local wine-production boom,” said project manager Dana Walker, a UW architecture lecturer. “There’s just nothing even remotely acceptable for a first time homeowner of modest income.”


The student-designed and -built house will be part of a 22-home development the Diocese of Yakima Housing Services has created for first-time buyers – Mabton’s first subdivision in more than two decades.


Debbie Buse, development manager for the nonprofit housing agency, praised Mabton city officials for cutting through red tape that might have delayed the project into the fall.


“Both Mayor David Conradt and City Administrator Ildia Jackson have been instrumental in overcoming obstacles,” Buse said. “Mabton has been a true partner.”


Soon-to-be-homeowner Cervantes said people like her who cherish Mabton’s small-town atmosphere have had few housing options, and she is looking forward to owning a four-bedroom, two-bath home able to accommodate her family.


The project pairs two sometimes-incompatible goals: affordability and state-of-the-art environmental sustainability. Costs were pared through design innovations, construction-trade benefactors such as the Yakama Nation, Premier Building Systems and Central Pre-Mix, and the volunteer labor of local residents and designers alongside the UW students camping out and eating courtesy of the Mabton School District.


Eco-friendly features range from rainwater irrigation, to computer-modeled natural lighting, to concrete slab floors that stay cool during the area’s torrid summers and retain solar heat in the cool winters.


Recycled materials will include screens reclaimed from hop-sorting nets and fences made from the slats of used apple-crates.


Energy provider Pacific Power plans to use the project to showcase an energy efficiency program launched in the Yakima Valley in April. Homes in the program cut heating costs by more than half, as well as providing cash incentives to builders that can exceed $1,000.


“We are pleased to be a part of this project with this first house constructed under Pacific Power’s Energy Star New Homes Program,” said Jim Gilroy, Pacific Power program manager. “We hope this initial project will inspire others to take advantage of the company’s Energy Star New Homes Program and enjoy the benefits of extraordinary efficiency measures in their new home construction.”


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