Infill Building

We (Cady and Guyton Construction) have now built several homes inside the city limits of Asheville.  I like being part of the city scene and supporting the efficiency factors that building near existing infrastructure provides. There is a lot of analysis about location efficiency as compared to Energy efficiency as far as building goes. Usually the conclusion is that you save more energy being close to infrastructures such as mass transportation, being able to walk or bike to places, and just not having to drive as far when you do get in your car than you do by living in an efficient home located outside a city.  Though individual circumstances and occupations often have more to say about where we live than the costs of getting there.

In the article Location Efficiency by Alex Wilson he said, “that average home, 55% of its total energy use is for transportation, and 45% is for operations.”   In terms of energy use and greenhouse gases there are more ways to approach this issue. One would be to drive on sunshine with solar powered electric cars. The Asheville area already has several solar powered charging stations and the cost of installing solar power on buildings has come down a lot.  Having your own solar charging station at home is more attractive.  We also have biodiesel by Blue Ridge Biofuels that makes a diesel replacement from used cooking oil. This biodiesel has a small cost premium but greatly reduces greenhouse gas contribution and provides a local alternative.  Recently the federal government has also raised the level of fuel efficiency standards for cars to 54.5 mpg by 2025. This will help the overall transportation efficiency.

All of these factors will continue to develop and change the relative benefit of one aspect of efficiency over the others but the reality is more complicated than how they are often presented.   There are obvious advantages to working both transportation and housing into decisions for development.  I am glad to work in town and build efficient homes. Infill lots are limited and the more they are built on the fewer there are and the more costly they are likely to become. So I imagine those limits will soon start to push for more multifamily and multistory developments within the city.

We have had the good luck to work in a nice neighborhood within walking distance of most shopping needs and close to the bus line and with water, sewer and natural gas nearby.  You would assume getting these services that run down the streets would always be a given. Not so. In our latest project the water pressure on the road was not enough to add a house to the line so we had to buy an easement and dig in pipe over 200 ft to a road where there was a better supply.  The sewer line just barely reached the first lot of two that we have so we had to create another easement to provide that hook up to our next house.  On our last house a neighbor did not want overhead electric lines across his property and would not give us an easement unless we went underground. We had to pay for a horizontal drill to provide for underground electric beneath the road. None of these problems were insurmountable but were unexpected additions to the cost of utilities.   In older neighborhoods it can get tricky at times and it is good practice to research the situation with each utility as part of the purchase of property.

It is a social and environmental benefit to have more people living in areas served by existing utilities and close to work and needs and keeping farmland and our forests conserved.  It will be interesting to watch how the location efficiency/building efficiency balance plays out with improving automobiles, light rail, increased work from home jobs, etc as well as more Green Built homes and efficient buildings.

Featured in new book on Infill Housing

by David Neiman Architects