August 17, 2009

Lafayette’s Green Design Laboratory to Seek Increased Energy Efficiency for Affordable Housing in Easton’s West Ward

The West Ward Neighborhood Partnership’s Urban Ecology Project will receive as much as $1 million in funding through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

In Lafayette’s cross-disciplinary Green Design Laboratory (GDL), a team led by Erol Ulucakli, associate professor of mechanical engineering, is studying how traditional urban neighborhoods can affordably and sustainably meet the needs of the emerging green economy and workforce. An innovative new GDL initiative on environmentally friendly housing rehabilitation will initially focus on more than 15 vacant, foreclosed, or occupied properties at risk of foreclosure in Easton’s West Ward neighborhood, with a special emphasis on two demonstration “Eco-Houses.”

The GDL will study, research, and quantify the inherent values of historic/existing buildings in terms of their energy efficiencies, carbon-emission reductions, affordability, and urban-ecologic values. The work will provide a new basis for valuing the green building and historic rehabilitation of existing buildings for incorporation into rating and criteria systems that guide construction of building stock and related site and urban infrastructure.

Today, Easton mayor Sal Panto, Jr., joined by representatives of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV), Lafayette, and residents of the West Ward, announced that approximately $1 million will be dedicated to the green housing rehab project. Nearly $500,000 has already been committed through the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. An additional $500,000 is expected to receive final approval in about a week through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
The housing rehabilitation initiative is part of the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership’s Urban Ecology Project, a collaboration of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV) and Lafayette that is supported by a grant of $730,000 from the Wachovia Regional Foundation. The goal of the Urban Ecology Project, a five-year initiative, is to forge a more creative, healthful, and connected community through programs for affordable housing and counseling, children and families, economic development and transportation, and neighborhood building.

Green Cities: How Urban Sustainability Efforts Can and Must Drive America’s Climate Change Policies, a report issued this year by Living Cities, a collaborative of leading foundations and financial institutions that is working to connect low-income people and under-invested urban communities to the economic mainstream, states that “urban areas account for approximately 75 percent of all energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in the world, with more than half of that coming from buildings . . . but few cities are prioritizing the needs of low-income people and communities as part of their green strategies and programs.”
More than half the housing stock in Pennsylvania is more than 50 years of age, and in urban neighborhoods, where the bulk of affordable single-family and multi-family housing is, this percentage can often exceed 90 percent. In Easton’s West Ward, home to more than 11,000 residents–the city’s largest, most diverse, most densely populated, and most challenged neighborhood–most of the approximately 2,500 housing units were constructed between the Civil War and World War I. Similar neighborhoods are concentrated throughout Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions.

Such densely populated, compact neighborhoods are highly efficient in the use of land and resources, and the frame and masonry houses that make up the bulk of the buildings in them are constructed of substantial materials. However, young working families, seniors, and immigrants who have settled in these neighborhoods often lack the financial means to rehabilitate these older properties and are under pressure from escalating utility and maintenance costs. Nearly one fifth of West Ward residents live below the poverty line, and more than half of them are renters.

“My students, colleagues, and I will study a variety of housing types in the West Ward and develop a baseline of analytical measurements to assist in formulating a practical set of benchmarks and guidelines for rehabilitating these structures to historic preservation and sustainability standards,” Ulucakli says.
“We expect to reduce substantially the utility and maintenance costs of these buildings in order to make them much more affordable to the owners–a significant challenge in our climate, where temperatures can fluctuate in one year from below 5 degrees to above 95 degrees–and we intend to make them healthier places in which to live while preserving their historic character and features.”

Mike Pica ’10 (Leavittown, Pa.) is one of the Lafayette students working with Ulucakli. The mechanical engineering major has been conducting heat-loss analysis this summer of some of the 15 buildings the GDL is focusing on. The lab is in the process of selecting two representative residential buildings, one wood-frame, the other masonry, to develop as “Eco-Houses” that will showcase GDL’s approach to green housing rehabilitation.

“Working with Thomas Jones, urban conservator for the project, we are exploring how green building requirements can be integrated with established historic rehabilitation standards for older buildings that can help retool traditional neighborhoods to meet the challenges of the new green economy and workforce,” Ulucakli says. “This project can have a real impact on the lives of the most economically vulnerable residents in the West Ward neighborhood while giving students a distinctive opportunity to apply in meaningful and real-world ways the knowledge they acquire in the classroom and the laboratory.”
The GDL is studying international standards and methods–especially BREEAM in Great Britain and the Netherlands; CASBEE in Japan; LEED in Brazil, Canada, India, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States; and PassivHaus in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland–evaluating construction systems and baseline measurements; and recommending benchmarks and criteria to inform more precisely and cost-effectively the implementation of strategies for green, sustainable, and historically-appropriate alternative-energy and energy-efficiency rehabilitation of older urban housing.

The GDL will allow Lafayette to take full advantage of state, national, and global exchanges that engage scientists, engineers, planners, policymakers, artists, other experts, and communities. Among other activities, it is collaborating with the National Center for Preservation of Technology and Training of the National Park Service and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission on the integration of green building and historic rehabilitation and the application of urban ecology concerns.

The West Ward Neighborhood Partnership, chaired by Panto and led by a steering committee of residents and local business, government, and organization leaders, is a Pennsylvania Elm Street program and also has a 10-year commitment totaling $2 million from Easton Hospital and Lafayette Ambassador Bank.

posted in Academic News

tagged with ,