Sustainably Integrated Design: URBANbuild 3 House

Patricia Skinner, Attaway, Denise, Etheridge, Dan, Taylor, Emilie, Tomlinson, Elizabeth  |  8/22/2008 5:44:27 PM

Central City, New Orleans -- This house, completed in May 2008, is one in a series of prototypes designed and built by URBANbuild, a program of the Tulane City Center consisting of fourth-year students at the Tulane University School of Architecture.

The completed house is part of a successful on-going collaboration between URBANbuild and Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS). NHS specifies that houses designed and built by URBANbuild be between 1,200 sq.ft. and 1,300 sq.ft., with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The goals of the program include testing innovative building techniques and materials. This house meets the requirements to build three feet above existing grade (or, the advisory base flood elevation), and is built for 140 mph winds, which exceeds the wind-resistance requirements of the state uniform construction codes for this area.

For the URBANbuild 3 house, the team sought long-term affordability by considering lifecycle costs, in addition to the initial construction costs. The principle technique explored was the use of SIPs (structural insulated panels). The technology was developed post-WWII, but the use of these panels in the New Orleans construction market is relatively new. The material shows exceptional performance in terms of energy efficiency.

SIPs are prefabricated in factories, arriving at the site ready to use. These panels consist of structural skins of oriented strand board, sandwiching rigid foam plastic insulation. A small but growing number of local builders are knowledgeable with the technology. SIPs are currently available from Texas and Mississippi manufacturers, but local businesses may produce them in the near future.

Additional methods for affordability and energy efficiency were utilized in this house. In addition to SIPs, spray foam insulation, installed in the ceiling and under house, will help insulate the house. Insulation under the floor is required by code and is an easy way to cut energy bills.

All windows are Low-E (low-emissivity) double insulated glass. Bamboo floor boards and carpet made from recycled plastic bottles are sustainable alternatives to more standard flooring options.

On the exterior, cementitious fiber board panels were used, which are resistant to fire, water, and termites. This fiber board, which comes in sheets, as well as traditional siding dimensions, also weathers well.

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