Homes of Habitat
BY Simon Gonzalez
Each month these pages feature a stunning Home of Distinction. Thoughtfully planned and designed — often to the specification of the homeowner — expertly crafted on all points then professionally and tastefully decorated and landscaped these beautiful houses feature the best of the best. In this issue we feature a collection of homes that are distinctive in a different way. The houses built by the staff and volunteers of Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity are professionally designed energy efficient and built to applicable building standards codes and regulations. They are smaller and less opulent but they are no less precious or beautiful to the homeowners. “It means so much to me and my girls ” says Monique Doughty who recently moved into her Habitat house in a neighborhood off Gordon Road in early October. “We have a forever home. It’s going to be a home full of love. I want to have memories here.” Habitat for Humanity is a nationwide nonprofit Christian ministry founded in 1976 as a means to provide simple affordable houses for low-income families. Wilmington’s Cape Fear chapter was established in 1987. Volunteer labor sponsorships and donated materials keep costs low but then homeowners take up the mortgage. “It is for people who have a good job who can pay their mortgage but they may not be able to get a loan ” says Lynne Wooten director of development at Cape Fear Habitat. “They may have gone through some hardships but now they are on their feet. Rather than having to wait for 10 years they can get a new home with an affordable mortgage.” Esmond Anderson construction manager at Cape Fear Habitat for the past 15 years says the homes he builds are distinctive because of people like Doughty. “It’s our families ” he says. “That’s what we’re here for. It’s putting families in homes that couldn’t get home ownership any other way.”
The Habitat Homes
The houses built by Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity are typically between 1 000-1 300 square feet depending on the lot size and number of bedrooms. All include a living room and kitchen. Most have two full bathrooms.
“We have a three-bedroom house that’s about 1 000 square feet on average ” Anderson says. “A four-bedroom is 1 250 maybe 1 300. That’s a set standard. It depends on our lot sizes on what plan we can use. We’ve got some lots we can only use a three-bedroom. Other ones we can use three or four.”
The organization matches the number of bedrooms to the size of the family. With three daughters Doughty qualified for a house with four bedrooms and two full bathrooms.
“My girls will have their own rooms ” she says. “We have two bathrooms. Girls love to be in the bathroom.”
The homeowners can choose a floorplan that best suits them. Doughty opted for a layout with an open kitchen-living room space.
“I wanted the open space ” she says. “This will give room for the girls to play. I can be in the kitchen and see them in the living room. When it’s homework time I can cook and make sure they are doing homework.”
Recipients also have options in the d�cor.
“Our homeowners get to make some selections to personalize it ” Anderson says. “They get to pick their siding and shutter colors their roof shingle colors the colors of the countertops in the kitchen the vinyl bathroom floors some stuff to make it their own.”
The homes are built to save homeowners on their heating and cooling bills. Habitat uses a program called SystemVision by Raleigh-based Advanced Energy which provides training and technical supportto ensure the homes are energy-efficient.
“They model the plan to these homes and give a two-year guarantee that the heating and cooling portion of their light bill is somewhere between $28-$32 a month ” Anderson says.
The home-building undertaking begins with a groundbreaking attended by the recipients and Habitat staff. That kicks off a building process that usually takes 16 weeks although Anderson is trying to shave a couple of weeks off the timetable.
Volunteers do most of the construction work under the direction of Anderson and his three site supervisors Josh Rammel Trevor Andrews and Eric Clemmer. The volunteers dig the footings frame and dry-in the house put up the vinyl siding and shingles paint and install cabinets.
Subcontractors lay the foundation and take care of the plumbing electrical heating and air insulation and drywall.
“We do 86 percent of the work with volunteers on our homes and subcontract out 14 percent ” Anderson says. “It’s totally different than a normal builder who subs out everything.”
Cape Fear Habitat operates with two groups of volunteers. There’s a Saturday crew that is usually inexperienced and a core group of mostly retirees that works on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“There’s so many ways you can do something ” Anderson says. “But we do it in a way that’s volunteer-friendly and safe for the volunteers.”
The building crew includes the homeowner who contributes sweat equity by providing 250 hours of volunteer labor in the construction of the home.
“You are building your house ” Doughty says. “It’s just like you are in construction. If you say you don’t know how to do it you’ll know how to do it by the end of the program. I didn’t know how to hit a nail. I was hurting my wrist. They said ‘You let the hammer do the work.’ They teach you how to do everything.”
Often the volunteers are from a sponsoring group. Doughty’s home is the Turkey Trot Home. Proceeds from the 2015 Turkey Trot at Wrightsville Beach which had more than 2 300 participants and raised $83 000 defrayed the cost of the house. Many of the volunteers that helped build it were runners from the event.
Residents of Landfall sponsored and constructed Jackie Dorsey’s home on Corbett Street. Chawaun Newkirk is a nurse at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Coworkers built her home on King Street.
“Our schedule is refined down to make it volunteer-friendly ” Anderson says. “We enjoy the camaraderie of working with the volunteers. We’re working with anything from high school students to college kids church groups business groups.”
Volunteers also typically plant grass trees and shrubs. But at some houses including Doughty’s students in the landscape gardening program at Cape Fear Community College plan and install the landscaping.
“They measure everything do a design they order materials and then they install it ” Anderson says.
When everything is complete the homeowners can occupy a stick-built vinyl-sided home with a front and back yard with some landscaping where children can play. There’s usually a small front porch for relaxing after work.
The construction phase concludes with a dedication ceremony attended by homeowners and their family and friends Habitat staff and board members and any volunteers able to attend. Because Habitat for Humanity is unabashedly faith-based the dedication includes prayer and Bible passages.
“There’s just a lot of love coming in ” Doughty says. “I’mso glad people came out and supported me and my family on our big day.”
In the first week of June volunteers beat the typical time it takes to build a Habitat house — by 15 weeks.
As part of the 2016 Builders Blitz teams of professionals built three houses on North Sixth Street in just one week.
“They brought all their subs in their framers their electricians plumbing heat and air ” Anderson says.
Builders Blitz is a program that takes place across the country. Local professional builders provide funding materials and labor and complete the homes in rapid time.
Bill Clark Homes Stevens Fine Homes Logan Homes and Coastal Cypress Building Company participated in Wilmington this year. They recruited subcontractors and partners to contribute building materials like lumber trim materials roofing drywall flooring appliances cabinets landscaping plumbing and lighting.
The work began Friday June 3 with groundbreaking and foundation pouring then proceeded quickly over the next few days — framing and roofing doors and windows HVAC plumbing and wiring insulation drywall roofing and siding interior painting and cabinet installation exterior finish and flooring landscaping and dedication ceremonies.
Bill Clark Homes and Stevens Fine Homes each built a house while Logan Homes and Coastal Cypress Building Company collaborated on the third.
“It was Saturday morning to Friday afternoon ” says Casey Thompson lead designer for Logan Homes and one of the volunteers from his company. “It was intense. We got to meet the families and it was such a great experience.”
The Wilmington homes were among the nearly 250 built or repaired in 71 communities across 31 states in the 2016 blitz.
There was also a Builders Blitz in 2012 when Bill Clark Homes Tony Ivey Custom Homes and Stevens Fine Homes constructed one house each. Three more builders — Herrington Homes Clark Carolina Construction and Horizon Homes — collaborated on the construction of two homes.
In 2012 the builders were given leeway to be creative. One of the houses on Prices Lane came to be known as the Red House because of its vibrant colors.
Habitat asked the builders to closely adhere to the typical template this year but the involvement of Logan Homes resulted in an association that should produce lasting changes in the way future Habitat homes are built.
After Thompson’s experience with volunteering and seeing how the building plans are implemented he approached Esmond about bringing their plans up to speed.
“I met with Esmond and Josh and said ‘Can we help you guys and put together better plans that you can use at any point?'” Thompson says. “They said ‘That would be great ‘ and jumped on the opportunity. We’ve got four drafters and me five people so we’re bringing it in-house here at Logan. Currently we’re working on six plans for Habitat. We’re giving back by using our resources to give Habitat leverage to help them do what they do best.”
The Builders Blitz was the second time Thompson and his team had worked on a Habitat home. The first came in 2015.
“Last year I wanted to get my team together and just do something meaningful ” he says. “We wanted to give back to the community. We wanted to go out one Saturday to help them with whatever they needed to build a house. Our drafters draw these plans all day long but they don’t build them. It was also a great way to get them some hands-on training and experience while doing some team building.”
Being involved from the beginning this time allowed Thompson to become familiar with Habitat’s current house plans. He immediately thought of ways he could improve them and make them more efficient.
“We want to make sure these homes are efficient in design cost-effective in design and they need to be volunteer-friendly ” he says. “Something simple they can put together that isn’t too complicated. We’re looking at different widths depending on the location and size of the lots and how to fit three bedrooms a living room a kitchen and two bathrooms in 1 100 square feet and have it accommodate a family. We want to offer flexibility. If there’s someone with special needs we want to provide a larger bathroom option. What we can offer is the same plan with two different elevation choices and two different bathroom layouts to give Habitat some flexibility.”
Cape Fear Habitat appreciated the assistance.
“We have an established set of floor plans that typically have been in-house designs ” Anderson says. “We’re fortunate that Logan Homes is taking our plans and revamping them. The square footage isn’t changing but they are a professional design team that’s revamping our plans and giving them an update.”
Cape Fear Habitat embarked on an ambitious project three years ago. It wanted to build Tiesha Murphy’s home on Prices Lane with 100 percent American-made products.
“We had seen an article where a builder had built an all-American-made house ” Anderson says. “Some of our volunteers had been military. They came to us with the idea. We thought it would be cool.”
Murphy was the perfect homeowner for the project. She is in the U.S. Army Reserve and works for the sheriff’s department.
“When we had the wall-raising ceremony we had the sheriff out there and a color guard ” Anderson says. “It was a nice ceremony.”
The patriotic theme though proved to be hard to accomplish. Building products that are 100 percent American made can be difficult to come by.
“A/C units might have been manufactured here but the circuit boards are made in Korea or Japan ” Anderson says. “Light fixtures were a problem. I could get a ceiling fan that was made in America but the light kit wasn’t.”
Framing lumber was another issue. Cape Fear Habitat uses two-by-tens made of North Carolina-grown yellow pine. But the two-by-fours are spruce from Canada. This house required a special order.
“We built the house out of two-by-fours made from Southern yellow pine ” Anderson says. “It cost a little more.”
The cost of American-made products in general was a challenge.
“Part of the problem was trying to keep it in our price range ” Anderson says. “A lot of these made-in-America products are expensive. A builder can pass on the cost to the person buying the home but we couldn’t do that. That limited us somewhat.”
At the end of the construction process Murphy had a new well-built home — that was nearly all American made.
“I think we put it at about 87 percent ” Anderson says.
Cape Fear Habitat has built more than 175 homes since its founding in 1987. Doughty’s home and one next to it are the first two in New Hanover County built outside the city limits.
“About 90 percent or maybe more has been in the downtown/east Wilmington area ” Anderson says. “We’re trying to broaden out of the downtown area because we’re running out of lots. We have a land-acquisition committee and we’re actively searching for property.”
Sometimes Habitat receives donated lots. Leon Skinner of Southern Homebuilders who developed the neighborhood beginning in the late 1970s gave these two.
“He had 10 lots he never built ” Anderson says. “Some of them wouldn’t perk. There’s no sewer out here. I had my soil scientist come out. Luckily these two can go on a conventional-type septic system. We have two around the corner that are going to have a more complex system. But they didn’t have those systems back then.”
The neighborhood seems ideal for the Habitat homes.
“My girls have an area to play in in front ” Doughty says. “They have parks that are nearby. It seems like a nice neighborhood. Everybody was welcoming. It’s a good place to raise your family.”
From Deconstruction to Construction
Donated reusable building materials flow into the organization’s two ReStores discount home-improvement stores that resell items to defray building costs.
“We do a lot of stuff at Wrightsville Beach ” says Edmond Anderson construction manager at Cape Fear Habitat. “We have a deconstruction group. When people are going to be tearing houses down we’ll go in there with a crew of volunteers and we’ll pull out cabinets and interior doors and light fixtures and appliances sometimes windows if they’re in good shape and we can get them out. That stuff goes back to our store [is sold] and supports our organization.”