Council heard a presentation from Steve Mueller with Universal Design Consortium (UDC), an organization that builds housing that blends centuries-old technology with modern “green” concepts to create homes that minimize energy consumption, and therefore energy cost.
The agenda item was simply a presentation, however, a motion made by council member Lillian Lyssy to direct city administrator Larry Pippen to begin researching the project received no second, and the motion died for lack of support.
Mueller said that his request would be for the city to donate the land for the project. Universal Design Consortium would fully fund the project through grants and private investment, and Mueller said the ideal situation would be for his organization to build three houses at a time.
While there was no public discussion among council members due to the lack of a second, Tymrak confirmed that he plans to put the idea on an upcoming agenda, most likely for the October regular meeting.
Council member Aaron Rosales was not in attendance.
“We’re doing this again, and we’re moving forward,” Tymrak said.
Universal Design Consortium is based in McKinney, Texas, and has done the majority of its work in Abilene, San Angelo and Lubbock. The company was founded in 2002 and utilizes a variety of different technologies to achieve the “zero energy home,” which is specifically designed for low to moderate income families.
The technologies utilized by the company to achieve the zero energy home are several, including compressed earth block, ground source heat, radiant solar heating, gray water return, rainwater harvesting, and more. Full details of how the different technologies work are available on the company’s website (www.udcinc.org), however, Mueller said during last week’s meeting that his company is more than just an architectural firm.
“We also do community development with an emphasis on sustainable architecture and high-performing buildings,” he said. “What I like to do is find communities that have an interest in sustainable architecture being used for affordable housing. We’re looking for small communities that would be good candidates for the types of houses we are doing.”
The community development concept could drive future work with UDC if city council decides to move forward with the organization at future meetings. City Administrator Larry Pippen said that one neighborhood in the northwest quadrant of town where the city owns seven or eight fairly contiguous lots could fit with community development concepts.
That area is near the corner of Kenedy and Brackenridge streets, and the fairly undeveloped Highland Park. Development of those lots could benefit the city as well as provide additional housing for the area.
“We own a lot of land that we need to somehow put back on the tax roll,” Pippen said. “With this development, we’d be the showcase of South Texas.”
Mueller shared several numbers with council showcasing cost-savings to homeowners associated with the zero energy home concept. He said that the Series 12 home, the most modern design developed by UDC, creates a 30 percent reduction in water consumption, a 90 percent reduction in wastewater, and that its gray water return system collects 100 percent of water runoff. He said electric bills on such houses are generally between $25 and $50 per month, and that the technology utilized in construction renders air conditioning and heating entirely obsolete.
He described a process called heat flux, where the blocks used in construction “contribute 30 to 35 to the cooling of the building,” and allows the temperature to hover around 70 to 75 degrees regardless of outside temperatures. He said high humidity actually makes the process work better, and that the blocks operate by pulling in heat and expelling it.
The technology is nothing new, he said, and has been utilized in eastern cultures for thousands of years. He said the Great Wall of China is built with similar concepts.
“It’s very easy to get a building to operate off the grid,” he said. “But you have to get away from what people see as the iconic image of a house.”
Mueller described the houses as “Mediterranean,” in style, although photos on their website and in brochures do not appear markedly different than what one might expect of a standard American home. Council asked several questions of Mueller, including inquiries about foundation materials, funding, the status of previous projects, and cost. He said that price is generally about $95 to $100 per square foot, and cited the price of $138,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom Series 7 home with a storm shelter. UDC would likely apply for grants on behalf of the city, and he said that a project in Jourdanton will be completed in approximately 30 days. The construction time is approximately 90 days.
“I think we should go for it,” Lyssy said.
“I think we need to study this a little more,” council member Jimmy Loya said.
Housing shortages in Karnes City are well documented. There was a groundswell of community support for a proposed apartment complex in Karnes City just a few months ago, although that project had detractors as well.
In a somewhat ironic twist to the meeting, in attendance was an employee of Pioneer Natural Resources who is staying at Lyssy’s home due to an inability to find housing in the area. Also in attendance was Karnes County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Ray Kroll, who has been highly involved in several projects related to housing in the county, including the Tierra Pointe Apartment complex in Karnes City and several motels currently slated for Kenedy.
“The shortage of affordable housing has been a problem in Karnes City for quite a while, even more so now,” Kroll said. “If we expect to grow we need to address the housing issue. It would be disappointing and shortsighted to not explore the UDC proposal.”