We Are Lawrence

Federal, state officials laud energy efficiency in Habitat for Humanity homes

RYAN HUTTON/ Staff photo Habitat for Humanity Building Director Emerson Dahmen, right, explains the special energy efficient windows at the new condos built at 100 Parker Street to Environmental Protection Agency Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding.

Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2014 12:15 am

By Paul Tennant ptennant@eagletribune.com

LAWRENCE — Two major environmental enforcement agencies cited the Habitat for Humanity homes at 100 Parker St. on Wednesday – not for violations, but for energy efficiency.

Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity is renovating the former convent into 10 affordable condominiums. Randy Larson, executive director of the nonprofit group, said he expects the project to be finished by June.

The building will have "leading edge insulation" that will be "weather-tight," said Richard Sumberg, president of Habitat's board of directors. This consists of 6 inches of insulating foam installed between the brick walls and the dry walls of each condominium.

The foam was donated by Dow Chemical, said Sumberg, an investment banker who was hard at work in one of the condos in his capacity as a Habitat volunteer Wednesday afternoon.

The homes also have energy-efficient windows, Sumberg said. They have double panes, with a layer of argon gas between them, he explained.

When another volunteer – who wishes to be anonymous – complained about the inefficiency of the previous windows, Emerson Dahmen, Habitat's construction supervisor, said there was not enough money in the budget for better windows.

"He (the volunteer) said, 'I'll write the check,'" according to Sumberg. It amounted to $28,000, he said.

Dahmen said the insulated walls will have a factor of R5 per inch – which means "little if any air will be passing through the walls," he explained. Drafts in the 10 homes will be eliminated "almost entirely," he said.

Curt Spalding, New England regional administrator for the EPA; Linda Darveau, an environmental scientist with the EPA; and Kerry Bowie, director of Brownfields and Environmental Justice for the state Department of Environmental Protection, visited 100 Parker St. on Wednesday afternoon and liked what they saw.

Sharon Mason, director of development for Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity, said the officials were also pleased with the laundry appliances in each condo that combine washing and drying in one energy-efficient machine.

The EPA and DEP officials pointed out that the reduced "energy footprint" will benefit the environment. This will also mean lower costs for the homeowners, Mason noted.

The building will be heated by gas.

For many years, the nuns who taught at St. Patrick School across the street lived at the convent. St. Patrick School is now Lawrence Catholic Academy. 

The Archdiocese of Boston sold the building to Habitat in 2008.

Each condominium will cost about $120,000, Mason said. The families, earning between $22,000 and $44,000 per year, will have no-interest mortgages.

Each homebuyer is required to contribute labor to the construction of his or her home as well as those of others.

Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity has been building affordable homes in Lawrence and surrounding communities since 1985. So far, the organization has built 71 homes and rehabilitated another 11, Mason said.