New home features inexpensive utilities

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The people who purchase the new home at 1606 W. Railroad St. in Heidelberg will have a pleasant surprise -- extremely low utility bills.

The estimated monthly cost for heating and cooling is likely to be in the range of $18 to $30 a month, thanks to technology pioneered in Germany.

"It's a neat tie-in that the house uses German technology and is being built here in Heidelberg," manager Joe Kauer said. The namesake of Heidelberg is the city in southern Germany renowned for its architecture and world-class universities.

The 1,650-square-foot house, with a two-car detached garage, is the fifth of its kind built in the borough of 1,200 residents. It's a joint partnership among the borough, Action-Housing Inc. and the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development.

Each house has been built on a vacant lot where a house had been torn down, or was so badly damaged in the 2004 flood that it had to be demolished.

The borough and the county advance money to Action-Housing, an agency that promotes the construction of affordable housing, to build the house.

Once the house is sold to an individual or family that meets income guidelines, Action-Housing pays back the borough and the county. It's a win-win program, according to Mr. Kauer.

The borough puts a property back on its tax rolls, and Action-Housing and the county create new housing that people can afford.

The eligibility guidelines to buy a house in the program are based on income and family size. A family of three is eligible to buy a house if total income is under $46,750, and $56,100 for a family of five.

Heidelberg Mayor Kenneth LaSota thanked Action-Housing and the county during a Nov. 1 open house at the new home.

"This is the fifth home in the past 31/2 years that has been built in the borough with the county and Action-Housing. We have 600 homes in Heidelberg, so these homes represent an almost 1 percent increase in our entire housing stock," the mayor said.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who also attended the open house, said, "It's exciting to see a single-family house that uses best practices to make a house more efficient, resulting in a much lower energy bill."

From the outside, the two-story frame house looks like most of the others in the neighborhood, which was a conscious design decision. Inside, the new house differs from standard house construction.

Through a combination of super-efficient insulation, a heat recovery ventilation system, triple pane glazed windows, and other design features like careful site selection on the lot to take full advantage of passive solar heating from the sun, the Pittsburgh architecture firm Thoughtful Balance Inc. was able to come up with a design that is not only attractive, with large open rooms that allow in plenty of sunshine, but one that can save a typical family of four an estimated $2,000 a year in utility costs.

The Railroad Street house is the first of its kind built in Western Pennsylvania and only the 47th built in the United States. However, in Europe and particularly in Germany, where energy costs are much higher than in the United States, the technology has been incorporated into thousands of new housing construction projects.

Katrin Klingenberg, a native of Hannover, Germany, and co-founder and executive director of the Passive Housing Institute United States headquartered in Illinois, helped serve as a consultant on the home's construction.

Conway Engineering, IAMS Consulting and Metropulos Development LLC also worked with her on the project.

"In 1990, the first research effort lasting 10 years was started in Germany. The efficiency performance has been verified, and even high-rises are now built to this standard in Europe," she said.

While a price hasn't been set yet for the three-bedroom house, Action-Housing expects the house to sell at an affordable rate for a family interested in a new home with low utility costs.

The house also features all new appliances and carpeting.

An application form for the house can be obtained by contacting Ron Ciotti at Action-Housing Inc., 412-281-2102 x 2021 or


Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer:


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