Last year, I wrote a column giving Habitat for Humanity a little grief about the four zero-energy demonstration homes the non-profit built on the edge of Lenoir City. My issue wasn’t with the houses. As I said at the time, they “could easily mix into most existing subdivisions and neighborhoods.” Instead, the criticism centered on the fact that they didn’t really mix into much of anything: “Sitting on a cul-de-sac not quite two miles outside the center of Lenoir City, these four ‘zero-energy’ demonstration homes were plugged into the power grid, but way off the street grid.” Walking anywhere wasn’t really an option. Neither was transit. As I asked at the time, “The owners of the homes may be paying little for electricity, but how much are they shelling out for gas?”
Well, I’m happy to say that Knox Housing Partnership has done Habitat one better. The non-profit recently held a ribbon cutting for seven LEED-certified homes in Five Points. The affordably-priced homes, built with Empowerment Zone funds from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, are expected to use about 30 percent less energy than similar-sized homes and received a gold-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. That puts these houses in Five Points in good company, green-wise. The only other gold-certified LEED home in the state belongs to Al Gore (although, being considerably bigger and in Belle Meade, it’s a good bit less affordable).
Energy efficiency isn’t the only reason these new homes are environmentally sound, either. Their owners will also have ample opportunity to access public transit. And since they’re being built on vacant lots within an existing neighborhood served by existing infrastructure they’ll have far less impact on both the environment and the public coffers compared to similar homes built on a Greenfield site. (Their affordable subsidy pales in comparison to the cost of providing roads, schools, and other services to new development on the suburban fringe.) The LEED rating system actually recognizes these advantages, adding points to a building’s overall rating score based on things like brownfield sites and transit access.
Priced at $104,500, they’re certainly affordable, even as they nudge neighborhood appraisals higher. Low to moderate-income buyers may qualify for some purchase subsidy as well. (The guidelines, based on 80 percent of Knoxville median income, are more lenient than you might imagine, too.) My only criticism isn’t really one at all: Looking at the historically compatible designs of these homes, it’d be nice to see something similar as infill in some of Knoxville’s historic districts. I suspect that, as is, they’d meet the design guidelines for Parkridge’s H-1 overlay.