First prototype energy-efficient home delivered to Whitley County couple
A new energy efficient modular home in the Goldbug community, which is projected to only use about $1.63 in electricity per day, means a lot of different things to a lot of people.
To 29-year-old Dennis Reynolds, who will be the home's new owner, it means answered prayers to a long-time effort to buy a home after several rejections from the bank.
"We are so excited. We give all the praise and glory to God. We wouldn't have it if wasn't for him," Reynolds said.
To Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation it means potentially a new way to provide low-income houses for people who might not be able to afford it otherwise.
The home's energy efficiency will mean a lower utility bill for the owner. The money that would have been spent on electricity can instead be put towards the mortgage enabling someone to afford a nicer home than they might have gotten otherwise, noted Tom Manning-Beavin, Director of Housing for the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation.
To Stardust Cruisers, which built the new home, the project means potentially another manufacturing market that is far more recession resistant than the houseboat industry which has been hit hard by the economic downturn.
Tuesday morning, Stardust workers labored to set the new home which was transported and set up in two sections.
Kentucky Highlands purchased the property, which is near the Hemlock Subdivision off US25W, in preparation for doing the project.
The project is a joint effort between multiple agencies and groups.
The project is being funded through a U.S. Department of Energy grant which was sent to the Kentucky Department of Local Government.
The Department of Local Government then awarded the grant to the Whitley County Fiscal Court which applied for it on behalf of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation.
"It was a grant for innovative energy efficient initiatives," Manning-Beavin said. "We started working with Stardust Cruisers to try and build something in the houseboat factory in addition to houseboats.
"It is something there is a market for. It is something that used similar skills and the trade knowledge that they had in trying to utilize surplus manufacturing capacity."
The grant paid for construction of the home and Kentucky Highlands purchased the land where it is being placed as part of its matching funds for the grant.
The home is the second prototype of the modular homes that are being constructed. The first home was placed in Monticello in mid-August and was paid for through the same kind of grant which was awarded to the Whitley County Fiscal Court.
Manning-Beavin said that since the plant was located in Monticello it made since to partner with the city of Monticello and build the first home there.
Two years in the making
He said the design process started during the 2009-2010 academic year through a project by the University of Kentucky College of Design. The School of Architecture and the Center for Applied Energy Research at the University of Kentucky worked together to come up with designs that led to this project.
"The challenge was for the students to design a residence that could be sold for $100,000 including land, and that could operate on $1 per day electricity," Manning-Beavin said.
While the students couldn't get the project down to $1 per day in energy usage, he said this unit is expected to use about $1.63 per day in electricity.
"Because it is all electric that is really not a bad number," Manning-Beavin said. "They tried to get all the way down to $1 per day, but we couldn't get all the way there without either generating solar or some other power on site."
He said that officials also didn't get the project down to $100,000 per home including land, but he was pleased that the first prototypes are only projected to cost about $130,000, including the land purchase.
The home will be sold to the Reynolds for its appraised value, which will be less than $130,000.
"It is going to cost more than it appraised for, but it is prototype. We are just in the proof of concept stage right now," Manning-Beavin added.
When the project reaches mass production stage he thinks the costs will come down.
Why so energy efficient?
Manning-Beavin said that the 1,035 square foot home is made of six structurally insulated panels. Between layers of a plywood like material on the outside and inside are panels of insulation.
"It is a very strong wall and a very well-insulated wall," he said. "There is not very much air movement between the outside and the inside. Those are two of the keys to energy efficiency, creating an airtight and an well insulated house."
A second home will also be placed in Whitley County at a later time.
The home is a two-bedroom, one bathroom, modular home, and is the only design currently in place.
"We know that as we move beyond the prototype stage, we are going to have to have multiple designs to meet multiple issues of multiple needs in multiple markets," he said.
Getting the home
Reynolds, his wife, Billie, 28, and their three-year-old son, Gabriel Reynolds, are becoming the first owners of the prototype home in Whitley County thanks to Kentucky Highlands and its sister organization, Southern Tier Housing Corporation, that promotes home ownership.
After working with families who became qualified, they were shown the projects in Whitley County. The Reynolds were the first family who was ready to buy, Manning-Beavin said.
Dennis Reynolds, who rents a house in Corbin, said that he had always wanted to own his own home.
One of the biggest selling points for this first-time home owner wasn't so much the energy efficiency of the home as the age-old real estate adage about what sells homes, location, location, location. He hadn't even seen the planned house when he fell in love with the location.
"To be quite honest with you, we looked at one home down the road. I loved the house, but I didn't like the location where it was at by the main road," Reynolds said. "When we came up here, we just felt right at home. This is what God gave us, and we are just thankful that he let us have this."
Reynolds said that he and his wife hadn't been successful in prior attempts to buy a home until now.
"We tried so many different ways to get a home. We went to the bank which kept turning us down. Everybody kept turning us down because we didn't have a co-signer," Reynolds said.
John Sander, a general contractor on the project with Crest Homes of Kentucky LLC, noted that the units are system built modular units, which means the homes can be constructed very quickly. The speed of construction helps keep the construction costs down.
"When you really have things flowing from the very start to finish it takes about eight weeks, but realistically you can say 12 weeks is a real nice time frame. It shouldn't be any more than that," Sanders said.
This includes excavating through finish.
Sanders said the final touches will be complete in two or three weeks on this home.
Manning-Beavin said that he hopes the couple will be able to move in by late January or early February. It depends largely on getting all the finances lined up.
Why this site?
Kentucky Highlands wanted a location in a rural area that was powered by rural electric coop power, and this site met those qualifications.
"We wanted to see how it performed on RECC rates and on that grid," Manning-Beavin said. "We wanted a rural setting. The Monticello setting was an in-town lot. We wanted to also test a lot that was rural."
Whitley County Judge-Executive Pat White Jr. said that it took about one year to pick the site for the first home in Whitley County.
A similar project is underway in southern Whitley County, which is in the Jellico Electric grid. This site was chosen because Jellico Electric gets it power from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which was part of that grant requirement, White noted.
"This is very cutting edge technology that will benefit Whitley County citizens. I am proud to see this coming into our area," he added.
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