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UW students get started on construction of 'green' home

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University of Washington students work on preparing the site for the construction of a new "green" home in Mabton. Students helping out include Jonathan Wlodaver (L), Morgan Ennis (R) and Mike Koseki, who is operating the backhoe.

MABTON - Saturday morning, a Mabton family of four watched as the footprint of their house slowly became visible. They watched as a backhoe started digging into their lot, making room for the foundation of their new home.

But the people wearing hardhats and moving earth weren't your typical contractors. Instead, the heavy work was being done by 11 University of Washington students and eight faculty members.

And the home being built isn't your average, run of the mill, four-bedroom home. Instead, the 1,430 square foot residence is being built as an affordable "green" home.

Dana Walker, project manager for the home construction, explained that as a green home the building will be energy efficient and environmentally friendly. She explained that many different elements were taken into account when the students designed the house, which is being built for the family of Vanessa Cervantes and Adrian Pedroza. The couple shares two children, Brandon Pedroza, 8, and Adrian Andrew Pedroza, 3.

In order to ensure that the house is highly energy efficient, Walker said it is being built using a very tight building envelope, which means that there will be very little transmission of heat or air through the exterior walls, windows and doors of the building. However, in order to ensure that fresh air continues to come into the structure, Walker said they are using a commercial climate control system, which is being modified for residential use. She said the system will ensure that fresh air gets into the house, without allowing hot air in during the summer and out during the winter.

Walker said another unique feature of the house is that it's being built using a regular grid system, which means that although there will be four bedrooms when the structure is completed, those rooms can be used for a variety of different purposes. She added that using a grid system to construct the home also means that it makes it very easy to add onto the house later on down the line.

Cervantes, a school secretary in Mabton, said she is excited about her new home. She said she has already had several chances to offer her input on the new house, noting that one of the few things she's concerned about are the concrete floors that will run throughout the building.

Walker explained that the concrete floors will help insulate the building, collecting heat during the day and retaining it, letting off the heat once the sun goes down.

Cervantes said she plans to be out at the site as much as possible over the course of the next nine weekends, which is when the UW students will be out working on the house.

"I want to be out here as much as possible," Cervantes said.

Walker explained that although the students will spend just nine weekends in Mabton constructing the house, it doesn't mean they are going to build an entire house in that amount of time. Instead, she said UW has partnered with Seattle Central Community College and their carpentry students and faculty. She said students from both UW and the community college will work for the week in Seattle putting together the frame for the home, and will then transport the already completed pieces to Mabton, where they will be installed.

The home project is being made possible through a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The grant was presented to the University of Washington College of Architecture and Urban Planning through the Community Outreach Partnership Centers program.

The home being built is part of a 32-lot subdivision being developed by the Diocese of Yakima Housing Services for first-time home buyers. Other homes in the subdivision will be partly funded through HUD's Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program, which provides funding for land acquisition and infrastructure improvements.

Lynne Nanzo, a UW professor with the college of architecture and planning, added that the "green" house project isn't something that just fell into Mabton. She explained that UW students have been working on the project for more than a year. She said they visited Mabton and talked to community members about what they would like to see in an energy efficient home.

According to Cervantes and Walker, the housing project is set to be completed by Aug. 22.

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