Breaking ground

MESCALERO, N.M. – Following a 12-year void in construction, the Mescalero Apache Tribe and Mescalero Apache Housing Authority have broken new ground.

But the excitement doesn’t end there. It only begins, as the new 30-unit subdivision will include several environmentally sustainable building practices and elements integral to Mescalero culture.

The state-of-the-art initiative will serve very low income families with rents per single-family unit ranging from $250 – $450 per month based upon income. With more than 350 families now on the MAHA waiting list, the project is seen as critical.

“A lot of our people really struggle with the costs of food and housing. So, what we intend to do is build green, healthy homes that are very energy efficient in order to reduce the cost of energy use,” MAHA Executive Director Tim Horan said.

The homes will be built with a passive solar design, which maximizes solar heating by orienting the homes’ larger windows toward the south. All rooms in the homes will contain at least one window to utilize solar lighting.

The floors of the homes will be concrete to absorb and radiate the sun’s heat.

“Each home will have a trellised porch on the south. The homes will be built so the sun’s angle will penetrate through the trellis in the winter to warm the floor, but be sufficiently shaded in the summer to reduce the heat,” said Daniel Barboa, intern architect for Atkin, Olshin & Schade.

The subdivision’s internal construction will be split into two groups. One will feature Structural Insulated Panels and the other will be comprised of conventional stick-framed techniques.

SIPs are made of recycled materials – polystyrene foam compressed within oriented strand board (commonly referred to as OSB). Both of these materials are of lighter weight and lower cost in comparison to conventional wood framing. Homes built with SIPs maintain a tighter building envelope (are less drafty) and the walls will have a higher insulative value – both elements that will decrease heating/cooling bills.

The stick-framed group (lacking the foam insulation) will be insulated with either recycled newspaper, sporting a resistance to thermal conductivity value (R value) of 34; or blown-in cellulose, with an R value of 28, Barboa said.

Each three-bedroom dwelling will be suited with a highly efficient wood-burning stove, the locally preferred form of heating. The 1,300-square-foot dwellings will also have gas heaters. Horan said that each year the tribal government provides firewood at no cost to qualifying members making homes with fireplaces or stoves another money-saving element for the occupants of the new construction.

Adding to the environmentally and human-conscious design of the subdivision will be the use of low-volatile organic compound paints, caulking and other interior and exterior adhesives.

Low or zero VOCs refers to the amount of toxic vapors emitted from the paint. Typical paints contain ammonia, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol or crystalline silica. Breathing or ingesting such chemicals is not only dangerous to respiratory systems of humans and animals, but the natural environment and ozone.

Each home will have a metal roof and adjoining water-catchment system including two 55-gallon drums to be used for livestock and garden watering.

All interior fixtures will have low-flow water heads and be suited with major appliances certified with a low Energy Star rating ensuring energy and cost savings.

To minimize land disturbance on the 37-acre development, no clear-cutting of heavily treed areas will be allowed and all chosen covenants are on land with a slope of less than 10 percent to prevent excessive erosion. Access roads and driveways will be placed on ridgelines and natural contours.

Because the development is surrounded by natural forest and grasslands, ponderosa pine stands will be maintained, as will the existing trails that run throughout the area.

MAHA housing data specialist and Mescalero Apache tribal member Kathryn Zuazua said respecting the environment is key to the values of her people.

“Our people are about preserving our land here … saving our plants, our land. Our ancestors lived off the land, the plants, the mescal, so this is a good plan for our people.”

The name of the development, I-Sah’-Din’-Dii, means “drumbeat” in the Mescalero language, creating a true connection to the community. Some of the homes’ entranceways will face east to satisfy requests of some tribal members, as it is the traditional orientation for the main entry.

I-Sah’-Din’-Dii will neighbor another 32-unit subdivision and be adjacent to the community K – 12 school. The new development will include a community center with a social room, kitchenette, office with computer stations and exterior covered space on the east entry.

This community-oriented design will also feature child care, employment and health services, bicycle and walking trails, sidewalks and public transportation.

Zuazua said individuals interested in renting the units are flooding her office.

“They’re coming in day by day asking how we will select new occupants. The whole housing idea is so exciting to everyone. A lot of people are really looking forward to it and there are a lot of people excited – especially at the groundbreaking.”

Funding for the project will come from the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority and the tribally allocated monies received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Native American Programs. Horan said the estimated cost is $8.5 million and anticipates occupancy by October 2009.