Affordable housing project built for net-zero energy

Affordable housing project built for net-zero energy

By Gary Wollenhaupt

As neighborhoods are gentrified throughout the country, lower-income households are finding it increasingly difficult to find affordable – and comfortable – housing.

Manufactured homes are one way to solve this issue, but because of the older materials used in many of these homes, utility costs can often exceed rent.

For the Pine Tree Manufactured Home Park in Eatontown, New Jersey, the answer was factory-built homes with pre-installed mini-split heat pump heating and air conditioning.

As part of a project to reduce total cost of homeownership for residents, the Affordable Housing Alliance, owners of the park, developed a Net Zero Energy home with a goal of reducing annual energy bills to zero. To reduce energy demand, the AHA installed solar panels and Panasonic’s ductless heating and air conditioning solution.

Key results of the ductless mini split installation were:

  • Utility bills dropped from approximately $400 to $500 per month to roughly $10 to $20 per month for gas and an average of about $30 per month for electric.
  • The unit was installed at the manufacturing facility, which means it was ready to use once the home arrived on-site, saving on installation cost.
  • The system helped maximize living space for residents.

The trailer park already had older manufactured homes already on it, but they were out of date and inefficient. The Alliance knew that utility costs were a large part of what made older manufactured homes expensive for residents.

Depending on the season, residents were paying $400 to $500 per month in utilities and oil and propane costs were on the rise.

A lack of insulation meant the homes were wasting vast amounts of energy to maintain a comfortable temperature. Because of this, the new models needed to be well insulated and have energy- efficient and cost-effective utilities.

After receiving funding from the Department of Energy’s Building America Program, The Levy Partnership began coordinating the development of new manufactured homes for the Alliance, including one Zero Net Energy home.

While Champion built each of the manufactured homes with the goal of reducing energy usage, the goal of the Zero Net Energy home was to reduce energy consumption to zero. To achieve this the home needed solar panels, which produce sustainable energy, and utilities that were energy efficient.

The home is outfitted with six dual-glazed Low-E windows that radiate energy, as well as two energy efficient doors provided by Lippert Components Inc. The company said the act as “a selective mirror for thermal energy,” as the double coating prevents heat from escaping and reflects room heat back inside during the cold weather months.

To reduce electrical demand, Whirlpool Corporation outfitted the home with several high-efficiency and sustainable brand appliances, including an energy efficient dishwasher, refrigerator, freestanding gas range and washer-dryer set.

In choosing a heating and air conditioning solution for both the manufactured and Zero Net Energy homes, The Levy Partnership selected Panasonic's ductless system, which was installed at Champion Homes' manufactured housing factory.

 “Our team wanted more than a vendor when we were selecting a heating and air conditioning solution for this project. We wanted a partner who would collaborate with us to deliver the right solution for Eatontown residents’ energy and comfort needs,” said Jordan Dentz, vice president of the Levy Partnership. “Panasonic’s team provided the technical guidance we needed, plus they have the sleek, low- wattage and quiet products to back them up.”

Next Step, a nonprofit network that promotes sustainable homeownership, brought the Alliance and Champion Homes together for this project. Once Champion built the homes, Panasonic's ductless solutions were installed. Because these systems do not require any ductwork, space for the residents was maximized since thick walls and soffits to house ductwork were not needed. Additionally, Panasonic ventilating fans were installed to provide intermittent and continuous ventilation as well as room-to-room air transfer.

"The ductless unit was installed at the factory, so the refrigerant lines were fully charged, and it was shipped to the site ready to use," Victor Flynn product manager for Panasonic heating and cooling solutions told "They didn't need an HVAC specialist to come to the site to charge the system because it was already taken care of at the factory." 

While testing in the homes will continue until mid-2018, Panasonic’s solutions are already proving helpful in contributing to both increased comfort and decreased costs for residents.

During testing, the humidity levels were higher than desired, so a dehumidifier was installed to manage the moisture levels.

In the testing period, utility bills in the new manufactured homes were found to be about 25 percent of what they were in older units: they dropped from approximately $400 to $500 per month to only about $36 to $80 per month for gas and less than $40 per month for electric. As a result, the Alliance achieved one of their primary goals for the project – lower total cost of homeownership for residents.

Read more about energy-efficient heating and cooling.

Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, Energy Audits, Heating & Cooling, Prefabricated Homes / Systems Built Homes / Modular Homes, Solar Power, Sustainable Communities, Ventilation

Companies: Panasonic High Performance Ventilation Solutions, Whirlpool Corporation

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