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A Module Prefab Development in Pittsburgh Makes Homeownership Affordable

By Camille LeFevre Home Features Editor
Apr 24, 2021

Tausha Herndon was tired of "paying crazy bills for heating, especially in Pittsburgh winters," she says. After living for years in apartments with drafty windows and electric heat that never felt warm, Herndon is thrilled to be living in a sustainably constructed, energy-efficient house. 

"This winter, we didn't raise the temperature higher than 74 in the house," she says, "and that included some hard, cold nights. We were always comfortable. And that makes me very happy. Because I really love my heat!"

Black Street
Photo Credit: Module

Affordable, Sustainable Housing 

Last October, Herndon became a first-time homeowner when she purchased one of Module's prefabs that's part of the Black Street development in Pittsburgh. Herndon's home was Module's first affordable home, meaning her household (she lives with her kitty and a human roommate) earns less than 80% of the median household income for the Pittsburgh area. Moreover, the house will remain affordable for 99 years due to a deed restriction. 

When Herndon sells the home, it must go to another household earning less than 80% of median household income. This deed restriction ensures that the home provides long-term, affordable housing in the neighborhood.

While the home's affordability was a factor in her purchase, Herndon says, she was also attracted to the "super energy-efficient appliances, heating, and hot-water heater" in the all-electric house. "The inspector told me I had the Cadillac of everything." She also wanted walkability to "everything I need and enjoy doing," Herndon adds.

"This Garfield neighborhood is an up-and-coming area with arts, restaurants, shops, and a bus route that gets me downtown fast. It's a lovely area I've always wanted to live in, and Module made it possible."

Latham House Module
Latham House. Photo Credit: Module

Module's Start

Module founders Brian Gaudio and Drew Brisley created their prefab company in 2016 "intending to make good design more accessible," they say. They completed Module's first home, Latham House, in 2019. The one-bedroom, one-bath, 880-square-foot home complies with ADA standards, as the owners had the home built for their parents. Module built the house using panelized construction.

In 2019, Gaudio and Brisley purchased three lots on Black Street. Their goal was to build mixed-income, market-rate housing—and affordable housing—using Module's standard home designs or models. Including market rate and affordable housing within the same development, they write in their 2020 Module Impact Report, "is critical to a healthy community fabric where households of different income have the opportunity to live on the same street and in the same development."

Black Street Construction Open Floor
Construction Betweeen Floors at Black Street Home. Photo Credit: Module

A year later, all three houses were delivered and installed on-site in two days. Today, all of the houses have been sold or are occupied. 

Black Street Pre Siding
Partly Completed Exterior at Black Street Home. Photo Credit: Module

What Sustainable Features Did This Prefab Home Include?

Module built Herndon's "super cozy" 1,150-square-foot, two-bedroom home to the Department of Energy's Zero Energy Ready Home Standards. The foundation walls are R-12.5. The attic has fiberglass batt insulation to reach R-53. The 2x6 exterior wall assembly has fiberglass batt cavity insulation, one inch of exterior XPS foam-board insulation (R-21 + R-5), and is covered in Tyvex DrainWrap. The house is clad in HardiePlankExposed-seam metal panels cover the roof. The siding on the front entry is natural cedar.

The house has ENERGY STAR-rated, Low-e, double-pane windows and doors. Ductless Mitsubishi mini-splits heat and cool the home. A Renewaire ERV exchanges stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air and transfers heat and moisture from one air stream to the other. "Despite living in an air-tight home, the air in the whole house is always fresh," Herndon says, "and I even have smelly kitty litter. Every day I come home, and it smells so good in here. I only open the windows and doors to hear the birds."

Black Streed Kitchen
Black Streed Kitchen. Photo Credit: Module

The kitchen and laundry room came equipped with ENERGY STAR appliances. LED lighting, solid-core doors, a cultured-marble vanity top in the full bath, and quartz countertops and backsplash tile in the kitchen complete the home.

Module Magic 

Herndon recalls that she learned about Module from her sister, who was working with Open Hand Ministries. Module had connected with them and mentioned their intention to build affordable housing. "My sister told me to get in contact with Module," Herndon says.

Black St Finishing Interior
Finishing Interior at Black Street Home. Photo Credit: Module

After reaching out to Module, the company invited Herndon to a factory tour. "I instantly fell in love with the plans and the process," she continues. "The house was spacious and beautiful, open and airy. I loved how they design it, planned everything down to the placement of the kitchen island, and how the open space flowed. It was perfect for me. Then, they mentioned the low energy bills—and all I could think about was winter and heat!"

Herndon and her roommate enjoy low energy bills. She says, "even with two of us using water and electricity. Everything is just so super high-tech and energy-efficient." Herndon says her favorite part of living in the home is "The fresh air. Especially with electric heat, the air can get dry. But because of the ERV, there's always fresh air."

Herndon also loves that the home "is super worry-free. I stand near my door—to see if I can feel a draft: Not a thing. I watch the curtains to see if they're moving. Never. I'm so thankful for that."

She's also been impressed with how "hands-on Module has been. They were so supportive as I was purchasing the house - in the middle of the pandemic! Anything I had an issue with, they addressed. They've also asked for my input on things, and they're using that input as they build future projects."

Black Street Home
Black Street Home. Photo Credit: Module

One of those projects is the development East End Living in Pittsburgh's Highland Park neighborhood. "I hear Module is also trying to do more affordable housing projects," Herndon adds. "That means so much to me because so many people like me want to stay in the city."

"If Module keeps doing these [affordable] projects, they'll make it possible for others to become homeowners, too."
Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-08-17T19:49:11+0000
Camille LeFevre

Article by:

Camille LeFevre

Camille LeFevre is an architecture and design writer based in the Twin Cities.