Innovation is at the heart of Habitat for Humanity’s work.

Back in 1976, bringing together volunteers and families in rural southwestern Georgia to start building simple, decent, affordable homes was a pretty inspired idea. Today, our organization is at work in nearly 80 countries, but we haven’t lost the entrepreneurial, creative spirit of those early days. As we work toward a world where everyone has a decent place to live, our network of local affiliates is increasingly finding new ways to build for the benefit of our homeowners — and the environment.

How we build in different locations varies from place to place, but two goals are universal: healthy living conditions and reduced monthly and life-cycle costs. Green and sustainable building practices go hand in hand with our desire to improve the lives of low-income families. Durable construction techniques and an emphasis on energy efficiency create homes that are safer, longer lasting, less costly to maintain — and truly beautiful.

Take Seattle’s “House of the Immediate Future.” Focused on sustainability, efficiency and affordability, this very special Habitat house uses recycled and reclaimed materials throughout and incorporates design and construction techniques that minimize energy consumption and waste. A solar array makes the house net-zero energy, radiant heating and extra insulation translate into low energy use, and a cistern and rainwater harvesting system provide all the water the homeowners need.

Habitat for Humanity House of the Immediate Future interior

Interior of Habitat for Humanity's House of the Immediate Future. (Photo: Habitat for Humanity)

The result of a collaboration between Miller Hull Partnership and Habitat for Humanity of Seattle-King County, the house sends a strong message. “The modern aesthetic and the advanced green building features really amazed a lot of people and changed their view of what affordable housing can — and should — be,” says Marty Kooistra, Habitat Seattle-King County’s senior adviser for strategy and advocacy. “We like to say that ‘affordable doesn’t mean cheap.’ That was abundantly demonstrated through this beautiful and sustainable home.”

Interestingly, the principal architect on the project noted that the house design benefited from some of the same things that Habitat emphasizes on every build: “affordability, size, easy-to-use mechanical systems, replicable design strategies and supportive of a volunteer labor model.”

St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity’s Eco Village in River Falls, Wis., is another terrific example of marshaling partners and volunteers in the service of sustainable and affordable design. With its 18 homes and community center, the village will double the number of Habitat homes constructed per year in River Falls and will dramatically change the way those houses are conceived and constructed. (Check out the site plan below.)

Habitat for Humanity Eco Village site plan

The Eco Village incorporates passive house principles, solar power and radiant heating, cisterns and rain barrels, edible landscapes and community gardens, all on the edge of a pre-existing neighborhood and in close proximity to public transportation. It will give families, says future homeowner Beth Evans, the chance to “have a connection with the world in which they live” — and to live the change they want to see.

In a fast-moving world where so many families simply need a hand-up to achieve decent and stable living conditions, perhaps creating that connection — and change — is the most innovative idea of all.

Shala Carlson Habitat for HumanityAs the editor of Habitat World, Habitat for Humanity International’s flagship publication, Shala Carlson has extensively covered the organization’s work in the United States and around the world.

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