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ComEd volunteers help build green homes in Habitat for Humanity development

Colin McAuliffe for Suburban Life
Eric Donnelly, a Habitat for Humanity volunteer looks to make sure the truss he is holding is lined up where it is supposed to be.
Colin McAuliffe for Suburban Life Eric Donnelly, a Habitat for Humanity volunteer looks to make sure the truss he is holding is lined up where it is supposed to be.

GLEN ELLYN – Planners of one development near Glen Ellyn are striving to put more energy into constructing some new homes than will be spent running them.

Representatives of DuPage Habitat for Humanity have been working on their Prairie Green project for several months. Sarah Brachle Wagner, executive director of the group, said homes for 12 families will eventually be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. The development is on the west side of Illinois Route 53 just north of Butterfield Road in unincorporated DuPage County near Glen Ellyn.

“Prairie Green will consist of 12 sustainable homes that are developed by DuPage Habitat for Humanity and sold to qualified buyers,” Wagner said. “There will be a 0 percent interest rate on the mortgage. … And the homes are designed to be energy efficient, so this will also save the homeowners money.”

This past weekend, DuPage Habitat for Humanity staff members received some help investing sweat equity in their project from energy firm Commonwealth Edison. The utility sent about a dozen of its employees to the worksite Saturday to mark National Volunteer Week.

"For the seventh consecutive year, ComEd participated in National Volunteer Week. Our work with the DuPage Habitat for Humanity Home Build was one of approximately 150 volunteer events throughout the Exelon family of companies, to demonstrate our commitment to serving the communities where customers and employees live and work,” said Martha Swaney of ComEd's communications department. “Service is a part of our DNA at ComEd; it's what drives us. We are active in our communities year-round, giving time and energy. In fact, ComEd employees volunteered 15,000 hours of time in 2011, the equivalent of 375 40-hour work weeks.”

Construction has been underway for the first five homes of the project since last fall, Wagner said. Families selected to occupy these homes must meet specific criteria, she said, including:

• Demonstrate a need for affordable housing;

• Have the ability to pay the mortgage;

• Must be willing to participate in the DuPage Habitat for Humanity program by donating 250 hours of sweat equity (either helping to build homes or working in the group's retail store) and attending classes; and

• Must already either live or work in DuPage County.

“These will be three- to four-bedroom townhomes, each between 1,500 and 1,650 square feet in space,” Wagner said. “They will be two-story structure. They won't be fancy, but they'll be well-built.”

Developing sustainable homes is just as important for the families who will move into the residences as it is for the environment, Wagner said. Utility bills are second only to mortgages in being the most expensive part of owning a home, according to Wagner. For people who need affordable housing, such costs must be contained as much as possible, she said.

LEED certification ensures a building has been constructed to certain standards employing green technologies and environmentally friendly measures. The rating system was devised by the U.S. Green Building Council. Homes designed to save energy will be less expensive to operate, Wagner said.

The first five homes of the Prairie Green development should be competed by June, Wagner said. The remainder of the homes will be finished by the end of 2014.

As a Christian and ecumenical organization, DuPage Habitat for Humanity draws many of its volunteers from local churches and religious organizations, Wagner said. But the group makes use of volunteer help from a variety of sources. DuPage Habitat for Humanity uses between 2,000 and 2,500 volunteers every year, according to Wagner.

“It's a real mix,” Wagner said. “We're happy from wherever our volunteers come from. … We've certainly benefited from ComEd's help. They are a financial sponsor of Habitat for Humanity as well as a source of volunteer help.”

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