Healthy Modular Habitat for Humanity Project Featured in "Baltimore Sun"


Habitat for Humanity Turning to Modular Houses in Baltimore
New Homes Are Energy-Efficient, Faster and Cheaper to Put Up

By Jamie Smith Hopkins | The Baltimore Sun

September 9, 2009

Cherise Jones is so excited to be buying a home - a new home - that she drops by the site two or three times a week just to look.

This morning, it's only a foundation, one of nine on a vacant East Baltimore block. Next month, Jones' home will be complete.

Tonight, Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake is trucking in modular houses to set on the foundations, a first for the nonprofit and an emerging trend in affordable-housing efforts. Factory-built houses aren't just quick to put up, they're cheaper than homes constructed on-site. Advocates for lower-income residents are realizing that, done right, there's nothing of the much-maligned trailer park about houses coming off today's assembly lines.

Habitat's incoming modular units, which will be set over basements, are two-story rowhouses with brick facades. They're also designed to be energy-efficient and have cleaner indoor air than many homeowners breathe.

"I think it's really innovative," said Mike Mitchell, chief executive of the nonprofit, an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International.

Matt Metzger, the local group's director of construction, sees in modular housing the potential for "a model that makes a lot of sense for Baltimore."

"The city has vacant lots all around, this size or larger," Metzger said.

Habitat hopes its modular units will be better for the homeowners, too. They're tightly sealed to cut down on expensive leaks of heated or air-conditioned air. They were also designed to keep moisture and chemicals from building up inside and damaging air quality. The cabinets are low-formaldehyde models. The paint and adhesives were chosen for their low levels of volatile organic compounds. Each home's bathroom and kitchen vent to the outdoors, and the flooring is laminate - no carpets to trap allergens.

"You just change that at the factory level," said Rebecca Morley, executive director of the Columbia-based National Center for Healthy Housing, who worked with Habitat on the project. "I didn't realize how much customization was possible. ... I thought, 'Wow, they really can accomplish a lot from a health and safety standpoint under these controlled conditions.' "

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