State College

State College Community Land Trust's new energy-efficient duplex is nearing completion

Envinity works Thursday on the GreenBuild duplex on University Drive in State College. State College Community Land Trust's latest housing project is nearing completion.
Envinity works Thursday on the GreenBuild duplex on University Drive in State College. State College Community Land Trust's latest housing project is nearing completion.

State College Community Land Trust's GreenBuild housing project has a higher price tag than its other houses, but the future homeowners' energy bills are expected to be drastically lower.

The energy-efficient duplex at 1394 and 1396 University Drive is nearing completion, with an open house set for the end of May and a certificate of occupancy anticipated to be granted in June. The GreenBuild project, which broke ground in October, is the first time the land trust is starting from the ground up.

"The community has been very responsive to our campaign to make this project a reality," SCCLT board President Susan Venegoni said in a statement. "Now, we’re excited to see the design become reality and ready for new homeowners who want to live in the borough of State College."

SCCLT helps individuals and families in buying affordable homes in the borough. It typically purchases existing houses, renovates them and sells them as affordable housing to first-time home buyers, but the land trust owns the land the houses sit on.

The plan to build homes that use renewable power to offset almost all of the annual energy consumption was designed by students at Penn State's Hamer Center for Community Design for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Race to Zero Student Design Competition. Project contractor Envinity Inc. has worked to develop those plans and make them a reality.

Each of the two units is 1,350 square feet, with three bedrooms and one-and-a-half bathrooms. It's not a traditional duplex. Instead of sharing a wall, the units are connected by their car ports, which SCCLT Executive Director Colleen Ritter said provides more privacy for the homeowners.

The units are outfitted with high-efficiency HVAC systems, LED lighting and solar panels, but Jason Grottini, of Envinity Inc., said the biggest energy saver is the building envelope, which includes heavy insulation throughout the structures.

"Whereas most new homes are spending more money on finish items like granite counter tops or fancy bathtubs — things that you see and touch but don’t have any influence on your operating costs of the house — we spent a lot of our money on the building envelope and making sure that we’re going to achieve those net-zero energy bills for the homeowners," Grottini said.

The units are selling for $187,500 each, which is higher than the purchase prices of SCCLT's other houses. Ritter said those renovated houses have been sold for anywhere from $110,000-$145,000. The median purchase price of homes in the area is $329,900 (including the cost of the land), according to State College borough's 2017 data.

Grottini said the construction for the GreenBuild project was about 10 percent more expensive than a standard build. However, when comparing how the energy-saving features in the units affect the monthly utility bills, they end up being more affordable than similar-sized homes in the borough, he said.

Energy costs for each unit are estimated to be $15 per month, but Ritter said at certain points in the year homeowners might not have to pay anything at all. SCCLT's other houses' monthly energy bills are closer to $250, she said.

The GreenBuild is also a learning opportunity for the SCCLT. The units will each have a monitoring system that will collect data on energy consumption and show how much energy is saved. The information could be used to determine what green features SCCLT will implement in future projects, Ritter said.

Because the GreenBuild units are brand-new and more expensive than the other land trust homes, prospective homeowners have to be in a slightly higher income group than what SCCLT typically requires of applicants. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sets the income limits for affordable housing in the area.

In the borough, the area median income range needed for the units is 80 to 115 percent, which means for a one-person household, their income must be between $42,000-$60,375, according to HUD. For comparison, the land trust's other properties require a maximum 80 percent AMI, or an income of less than $42,000 for a one-person household.

The GreenBuild project was made possible through various grants and donations from community members.

SCCLT received an about $150,000 grant from the State College borough to purchase the plot of land for the project, Ritter said.

West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund gave the nonprofit a $100,000 grant and a $350,000 construction loan, the Centre County commissioners contributed $15,000, S&T Bank gave $10,000, and private donations filled in the gaps, Ritter said.

The duplex cost more than $450,000 to build, she said. Other funds went toward site preparation, marketing and other administrative costs.

In the past two decades, SCCLT has purchased and rehabilitated 40 houses and assisted more than 60 individuals and families in becoming homeowners in State College borough.