As a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, I am impressed by the fact that they do so much more than just “build houses.” Of course, that’s one of their core values, but it goes beyond that. They empower people to lift themselves from poverty, teach classes on financial management, require homeowners to contribute 500 hours of sweat equity towards their new home and also contribute financially in some way.
But one thing that is often overlooked is their commitment to the environment. Of course, I volunteer mostly with their international programs, but regardless of domestic or international, they make environmentally conscious decisions when building homes.
Here are a few things they do:
- Did you know that the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City is taken down and milled into lumber for use in Habitat homes somewhere in the northeast? They do this every year.
- Did you know that all Habitat homes in California incorporate solar panels?
- Habitat doesn’t just “build” new homes, but they have an extensive renovation program. What better way to turn around the blight of abandoned, dilapidated homes in cities across America by making them into sustainable housing? And this doesn’t even take into account the contribution to the reduction in crime in these cities by turning these areas into vibrant, thriving neighborhoods.
- With regard to the above, they also do this around the world. For instance, in Kyrgyzstan, Habitat has taken old Soviet-era apartment building in the capital of Bishkek and renovated them, turning them into condos.
- ReStores — Habitat operates more than 900 ReStores across the United States and Canada. You can think of these as thrift stores for building materials. Individuals can donate old materials to the stores, get a tax deduction, and the the ReStore sells these items to the public. This not only raises money for Habitat’s use in new home building, but it keeps materials out of the landfills.
- Did you know that Habitat takes into account the environment when planning new construction, both domestically and internationally? In almost all cases, they leave the surrounding environment better than how they found it.
- With regard to the above, Habitat utilizes landscaping in efficient ways. In arid climates, they plant drought resistant landscaping, and they also will plant trees on the east and west sides of homes to provide shade, thereby reducing the need for air conditioning.
- Water — Many homes built or renovated by Habitat use gray water for the gardens and outside landscaping. The house I built in Jordan was designed to use gray water for the vegetable gardens.
- They use green building materials in new construction and renovations. Many homes are also LEED certified. You can read more about LEED here.
Habitat does a few more things that may not necessarily be environmentally orientated, but do contribute to the well-being of others:
- Women’s Builds — Groups of women get together and build houses, usually in a week long building blitz.
- Youth builds — Similar to Women’s Builds, but with teenagers.
- Empowering women — Habitat empowers women around the world to start businesses to support their families. How does this fit in with building houses, you might ask? Well, just one example is a woman in India who received a home from Habitat. Having a “home base” (no pun intended) allowed her to get a sewing machine, take in tailoring, and now she works from home, making money and supporting her family. The skill was always there, but she just needed the stability and grounding of a home.
- Veterans — Habitat partners with corporations, namely Home Depot and Lowe’s, where their employees donate their time to build or renovate (but mostly renovate) homes for vets. This could include retired vets who need home repairs, or disabled vets who need structural renovations to accommodate such things as wheelchairs.
- Education, Part I — As I mentioned earlier, Habitat spends a lot of time educating new homeowners on basic budgeting, financial management, and about owning a home. In other areas around the world, Habitat will educate the population on HIV/AIDS, combating malaria or other opportunistic infections. For instance, in Malawi, Habitat donates mosquito nets. This simple net can prevent the family from getting malaria, which can be devastating if someone has HIV. But the locals will use them for netting over their gardens, so Habitat makes an effort to make the connection of mosquito nets and health.
- Education, Part II — In Haiti, Habitat trains locals in extensive construction skills. They even give them diplomas. And it’s not just men that take these classes. Yes, women are also being trained to do construction. This provides them with marketable job skills to improve their livelihoods.
- LGBT — Several local affiliates have what they call Pride Builds each year. Toronto is probably one of the biggest in the world. The week of the annual pride parades, groups of LGBT and/or their supporters will spend a day or two building homes in their city. No construction experience is required for these, either.
In closing, did you know that Habitat is the largest home builder in the United States, building over 38,000 homes last year? Consider volunteering with your local affiliate, or join one of the international builds I lead every year. You can contact me at shane [dot] werle [at] gmail [dot] com if you want more information on one of my builds.