Local Cottage Stands for Affordability and Energy Efficiency

Photo: A local cottage located in a UC Berkeley professor's backyard is a 'net-zero energy affordable unit' that was constructed last year.
Karen Ling/Photo
A local cottage located in a UC Berkeley professor's backyard is a 'net-zero energy affordable unit' that was constructed last year.

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Eighteen blocks west of UC Berkeley, a cottage standing in a professor's backyard exemplifies a new option for Bay Area affordable housing, consisting of a low-cost, energy-efficient dwelling strategically placed near a major transit corridor.

The net-zero energy affordable unit is located on a property on Delaware Street near San Pablo Avenue and is owned by Karen Chapple, a campus associate professor of city and regional planning.

Constructed by New Avenue Homes in 2010, the cottage consists of a heat-absorbing concrete foundation, a recycled metal roof, insulated walls and dual-paned windows, making it extremely energy efficient, according to New Avenue Homes founder and CEO Kevin Casey.

In 2009, Casey came to Chapple while he was attending Haas School of Business. Casey was working on a group project on affordable housing, and Chapple, who was considering building another unit for financial reasons, offered to use her lot as a model. After Casey graduated and launched a start-up company, he contacted Chapple about the project.

"I was reluctant - borrowing $100,000 is a scary proposition, and though I knew it was an investment that would generate income, I was still nervous about it," Chapple said.

She said she decided to proceed after Chancellor Robert Birgeneau announced 8 percent salary cuts in August 2009.

Chapple said typically affordable housing units are constructed through a multi-unit complex project. Units usually cost $400,000 to build, and developers collect rent revenues. The cottage took one-fourth the usual cost to build and is an example of an asset-building strategy for homeowners. Chapple rents the unit to tenants who live there three weeks a month for $950, but said she would rent it out for $1,200 for full-time.

Tenant Karen Kerr said the unit is perfect for her. A firefighter with the San Francisco Fire Department, Kerr stays at the cottage with her partner, a firefighter who works in Seattle, and their 2-year-old son. Kerr - who has another residence in Seattle - uses public transit to commute to her work in San Francisco.

"We want to live close to friends and have a sense of community without buying an expensive house," Kerr said.

Chapple also decided to apply for a $60,000 UC Transportation Center grant and with the grant is currently researching how low-cost, energy-efficient houses can boost public transportation use.

"The main barrier to building these houses is the parking requirements," she said. "If you could tell homeowners they don't have to build a parking spot but have to rent to somebody that relies on walking, bicycling, car share or transit, that benefits everyone, including the environment."

Read the full story online at



Contact Kate Lyons at [email protected]

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