UVa.'s ecoMOD Winning Awards and Helping Charlottesville

By: Suzanne Wilson Email
By: Suzanne Wilson Email
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July 23, 2013

For nearly 10 years, a team of University of Virginia (UVa.) architects and engineers, called ecoMOD, have been working to create affordable and sustainable housing. Now, they have created that housing in a way that can be mass produced and they recently won an award for their work.

The ecoMOD and ecoREMOD projects have been working to help improve housing standards for low income housing.

John Quale, UVa. Professor of Architecture and Director of ecoMOD and ecoREMOD, said, “Not only provide homes for low income individuals but give those non profits opportunities to have access to this kind of design and create a product that is very high performance and a low cost.”

The road to winning Architect Magazine’s 2013 Research and Development Award began on the corner of Elliot and Ridge in Charlottesville. The original design was a two bedroom home that was recently redesigned to become a four bedroom modular home manufactured by Cardinal Homes in South Boston, Virginia. This redesign, that won ecoMOD’s award, took about two year and is now available for low income housing organizations or anyone on the market.

Quale said, “We believe we are the first to do really affordable housing and really high performance housing in the same project and make it in the price point that affordable housing agents can purchase from Cardinal homes.” He continued, “We are taking advantage of the reduced cost of modular to upgrade the cost of the performance.”

This award only shines light on one of the many facets of ecoMOD’s projects. Right now, Quale and UVa. Students are working with the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program (AHIP) to help improve people’s qualities of life in preexisting homes, right here in Charlottesville.

Quale said, “The whole idea is really just focusing on improving the lives of those individuals. This is the kind of thing that goes above and beyond what AHIP normally does.”

Jennifer Jacobs, Executive Director of AHIP, said, “The UVa. students are also helping with kitchen design and remodel which AHIP often does but once we get to the end of our budgets, we tend to have to focus on the strict health and safety issues in the house and we often don't have the luxury of tackling more quality of life issues.”

Lutticia Wilhite, the homeowner of one of the homes being rehabbed, said, “We've wanted to do it ourselves but we just weren't able but we were given an opportunity and we took it, we ran with it.”

The UVa. ecoREMOD team is working with AHIP on a project called “Block to Block”. It is working to make homes safer and more sustainable in the 10th and Page neighborhood in Charlottesville.

Jacobs said, “We thought, wouldn't it be great to drive through a neighborhood and look around and see that we've done a bunch of houses all at once and that's precisely what we are doing in the 10th and Page neighborhood.”

AHIP is planning on rehabbing at least twelve homes a year in the Block to Block Initiative.

The Wilhite’s home is one of the first to be transformed and they said it hasn’t always been easy.

Wilhite said, “As far as having to make this the kitchen and the living room too and dining room, that's OK, it's temporary and I know that.”

In the end, AHIP and the ecoMOD team are touching more than people’s homes, they are improving their livelihood.

Jacobs said, “The relief that people feel and that stress that is lifted and then t he ability to watch your house transform is very emotional to watch for a lot of the home owners.”

Wilhite said, “This is going to be a whole new house, just with the same people in it though.”

There are about 60 homes on AHIP’s waiting list and they hope that in the next several years that will be able to drive through the neighborhood knowing everyone is waking up in a safe home.

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