A little more than a year ago, Gerrod Winston, senior architect at Desmone Architects, was brainstorming about how to build green housing that’s affordable and attainable. When he contacted Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh with some ideas, he learned that they, too, were working to make their practices more sustainable.

“It was serendipitous,” says Winston.

“Green building is a great practice to pair with the Habitat model,” says Leslie Montgomery, education director of the Green Building Alliance who is also involved with Habitat. “It’s important that low-income families have access to healthy, sustainable durable low cost living.”

“Commercial green building has become almost standard in Pittsburgh because we’ve been doing it so long,” says Montgomery. “We have a lot of examples to look to,” she adds. But green residential practices have been slower to make it to the local scene.

Habitat of Greater Pittsburgh was thinking along the same lines and created a Sustainable Construction Committee–with Winston and Montgomery as members– to find the sweet spot between cost and sustainability for both their renovations and new builds.

Also on the committee is Gerard Schmidt, an architect at the Pittsburgh office of Perkins Eastman, a firm with 900 employees and 14 international offices. Perkins Eastman has an annual in-house design competition with a different focus each year. This year’s competition: create an affordable green home design for a Habitat property in McKeesport.

Concept 3_Contextual__Courtesy Perkins Eastman
One of the winning prototypes. Courtesy Perkins Eastman.

The entries were judged on five criteria: does it meet the needs of a homeowner in terms of number of bedrooms and bathrooms, how does it use sustainable materials, can it be built by volunteer-based labor (a criteria for all Habitat houses), is it cost efficient in terms of its design, upkeep and utility usage, and how does the design work within the contextual design of the lot?

A jury of nine, including Chris Koch, CEO of the Design Center, and Tom Bartnik, executive director of Pittsburgh Green Innovators, chose three winners.

“We will use these designs as a kick-off point to see which direction to go,” says Montgomery. Plus, they will use the designs to help “green all the building practices at the affiliate,” which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2016.

Concept 2_Green__Courtesy Perkins Eastman
Another winning prototype. Courtesy Perkins Eastman.

Habitat has more than 1,000 affiliates (chapters) around the world that sell homes at cost to low-income families who are given a no-interest mortgage. In return, the families must put in “sweat equity” to help build the homes.

The effort in McKeesport is intended “to spur revitalization efforts” in the once thriving steel town.

Lauri Gravina

Woods wanderer who was an an editor at New England’s regional magazine, the research director of a Colorado newspaper and a farm hand in Vermont before returning to Pittsburgh to write about and explore her hometown.