June 06, 2024

Redefining Sustainable Housing, VT: Installing Local Materials

A grant and a partnership for healthier housing in Vermont

In a transformative partnership aimed at redefining sustainable housing practices, HML is the recipient of grant funding as part of a consortium led by Vermont State University’s Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources and the non-profit organization Smokey House. This grant is part of the Forest Economy Program (FEP), funded by The Northern Border Regional Commission’s “Strategic Forest Economy Investments.” “The Commission has prioritized investments that support the regional forest-based economy and the industry’s evolution to include new technologies and viable business models across the four-state NBRC region of Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.”

Other participants in this grant include the Vermont Green Building Network and Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. The site for the project will be Smokey House, a living laboratory located near Danby, Vermont, that conducts land-based research to help land managers build ecological and economic resiliency into regional food and forest systems. They have a remarkable team with experience in construction, forestry, sheep husbandry, natural fibers, and agriculture. To support their aspirational activities, the Center needs housing and educational spaces, which is part of the focus of this grant. 

"Smokey House’s groundbreaking work on youth unemployment is combined today with its innovative responses to climate change."

The grant will support research and design work to pioneer replicable small-scale housing solutions using cost-effective construction methods, emphasizing the renovation of existing structures, factory production of housing units, and the integration of locally sourced timber and natural materials.

Smokey House, renowned for its commitment to environmental stewardship and community empowerment, is the perfect ally for HML’s healthy, affordable housing mission. 

The project begins in the design studios

As the HML’s lead in the project, Alison Mears hosted a spring 2024 architectural design studio at Parsons School of Design with faculty member Bless Yee and teaching assistant and HML researcher Angela Zeit to explore the design and construction opportunities of the project. The studio worked with the grant collaborators and other local and regional stakeholders on a pilot project to research and design a series of innovative prototypical timber housing and larger-scale educational structures. Students and faculty in the studio traveled to the site in early March to explore the qualities, challenges, and opportunities of the site.

The studio adopts non-fossil fuel-based building materials, actively designing for low-embodied carbon and circularity.

The studio projects explored cost-effective construction methods, including factory production of parts or entire housing units designed for easy assembly and disassembly, working with local, sustainably sourced timber and other natural materials. The studio conducted initial research to establish the viability of new wood products and construction systems, identified the characteristics and program for new structures, led the design process and development of construction documents and specifications, and constructed a prototypical installation. The explorations within this prototype will inform the construction of future buildings on the site.

This pilot project will enable the team to propose replicable small-scale prototypes to address one of the most significant challenges of many small communities: the provision of affordable, resilient, sustainable, and healthy worker housing. 

At the center of this collaboration lies a shared commitment to sustainability and affordability.

By leveraging the expertise of all organizations, the project aims to develop housing models that are not only environmentally conscious but also economically viable for communities facing housing challenges.

This project represents a bold step towards reimagining the future of housing—one that is environmentally responsible, socially equitable, and economically feasible.


HML project team: Alison Mears, Angela Zeit post graduate researcher, Katie Kim research assistant

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