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Habitat For Humanity, Fulfilling A Dream

Martinsburg, WV - For one young mother, Delilah Johnson and her two daughters, Stephanie - age 5 and Olivia - age 2, the Open House sponsored by Habitat For Humanity of the Eastern Panhandle on Friday, November 6, 2009 could best be described as the fulfillment of a dream.  Delilah had heard about Habitat For Humanity of the Eastern Panhandle (HFHEP) from a co-worker last year.  She followed up that conversation with a call to HFHEP requesting an application, and was later notified by letter that she had been selected as the recipient of this new home in Martinsburg.

“I’ve been living with my parents for three years in one room. This will change my life dramatically.  Habitat For Humanity is a wonderful organization. We are truly grateful!” - Delilah Johnson

When asked, “How has this changed your life” Delilah said, “I’ve been living with my parents for three years in one room. This will change my life dramatically.  Habitat For Humanity is a wonderful organization. We are truly grateful! ”  Two year old, Olivia says, “My house, my dirt, my grass.  He’s fixing my house”, referring to the construction worker as he finished installing the downspout on the day of the open house.

Present at the Open House were local contractors who were instrumental in making this dream home a reality for Delilah and her children.  David Hartley, Executive Officer, and Brian Hensell, Chairman of the Community Service Committee, for the Eastern Panhandle Homebuilders Association gave details of the construction as well as some energy saving features built into this three bedroom, one bath, approximately 1250 square foot home situated in Martinsburg. 

“A couple years ago Habitat came to us (Eastern Panhandle Homebuilders Association) and asked us to build a house because they needed to build five homes that year for a grant.  So we agreed to build one in a blitz build format.  So that’s why every year we’ve continued that…this is the fourth annual.  We’ve partnered with them (HFHEP).  They pay for the materials, we donate the labor, and coordinate and take care of the whole project for them” according to Brian Hensell. 

Watch the house go up! In two minutes and eleven seconds.

Some energy saving features described by Brian - “The house is situated so that it is south facing.  That’s why we put a lot of glass on the south side.  This is an insulated concrete slab. We use that as a solar collector, basically.  The concrete absorbs the heat, and then at night time it radiates the heat back into the room through the floor. Standard ceramic tile over insulated slab was used in the living room / kitchen areas.  Bamboo floor was placed throughout the hallway and bedrooms.”  When asked why bamboo was chosen for flooring, Brian explained that “bamboo is a quick renewable source - more green than hardwood.  Hardwood takes longer to grow where bamboo is fast growing and hardy. Case windows (crank out to open) were installed because they are more efficient than double hung windows.  When the wind blows on a case window it blows the window tight against the seal, making the window even more air tight.  On a double hung window, when the wind blows it separates the window causing air leaks.  The case windows have a lot less air filtration and is more efficient.”

“The home is equipped with a very efficient heat pump will save on some of the heating costs.” The living room / kitchen area has a “condition crawl space which means there is no insulation under the flooring, and the outside walls are insulated keeping everything in, so there’s actually heating and cooling in the crawl space which keeps the temperature in the house and crawl space the same” stated, David Hartley.

Mike McKechnie, Mountain View Solar & Wind (http://www.mountainviewsolar.org) of Berkeley Springs was on hand to explain the solar hot water heating system used in this new construction project.  “This home is equipped with a two-panel, 80 gallon solar hot water heater.  It will use the suns energy to heat water for domestic use - washing dishes, taking a shower, anything you use hot water for in your house residentially. This system was selected for this size family or a family that will grow into it.  It is a size that will be comfortable for the three or possibly four of them as they grow up.  It will provide 70-80% of their hot water from the suns energy for free.  The other 20-30% will be provided by a single electric element in the tank which heats the water to the preferred temperature of 120-125 degrees, normal residential setting.”  For this size home, what would a solar hot water heating system typically cost?  “This system, everything included (permits and fees) would cost $8,500.00. The federal government will allow a tax credit of 30% with no cap which equals out to $2,550.00 for this system.  Then, thanks to the good people is this region and other people in this state we have lobbied and received an additional credit of up to $2,000.00 making a net cost for this system of $3,950.00.  This system will pay for itself in about seven years.”

Neal & Carla Nilsen of AskNeal LLC., Kearneysville was on location explaining their residential electricity monitoring and feedback system that will allow Delilah to track her home energy usage and, if necessary, reduce the amount of energy consumed by her family daily.  A device called a hula hoop is placed around the wires in the electric panel box sending information back to a display unit monitoring the amount of energy consumption.

Al Means, Executive Director of Habitat For Humanity of the Eastern Panhandle http://www.hfhep.org was on site answering questions pertaining to the organization and criteria used to qualify for a HFHEP home.  HFHEP began in 1992 with the first home being constructed in 1994.  There are currently 1760 affiliates within the United States. Anyone can apply for a habitat home, however, each application is considered based on its own merits. 

Criteria used to qualify:

  • Low income - as determined by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  According to HUD, the 2009 median family income for Martinsburg was $61,300, http://search.hud.gov (Analysis of the Hagerstown-Maryland, Martinsburg-West Virginia PDF).
  • Live in the HFHEP service are for one year.  Service area is defined as Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson Counties.
  • Good Credit - for those families who have less than favorable credit, HFHEP will instruct the families on how to improve their credit.
  • Complete 500 hours of sweat equity.  Each adult over 18 yrs. of age is required to work 100 hours.  Friends and family can help by completing up to 300 of the 500 required hours.  After completing 100 hours of sweat equity and showing their commitment to this project, HFHEP will then sit down with the family to design a house that will suit that family’s needs.  Sweat equity projects can include working on their own project or any other HFHEP projects.  An example given by Mr. Means was HFHEP’s need to have doorhangers placed in the Charles Town / Harpers Ferry area.  One way for HFHEP to raise money is from the sale of donated vehicles.  HFHEP will then receive a portion of the money collected from automobile auctions.


In addition to meeting the above criteria, the homeowner is required to take three classes: Budgeting, Homeowner Maintenance, and Smart Shopping/Good Nutrition.  Once the homeowner has gone to settlement, it is their responsibility to make mortgage payments in a timely manner, maintain all appliances and equipment, and show pride of ownership in their new home.

The goal of Habitat For Humanity of the Eastern Panhandle is to build ten new homes per year.  Mr. Means said, “the most rewarding area of this job for me and the most emotional is turning the keys over to the new homeowner.”  For Delilah this special moment is scheduled for November 24, 2009.

Habitat for Humanity International was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller. Today, Habitat for Humanity is a true world leader in addressing the issues of poverty housing.

The concept that grew into Habitat for Humanity International was born at Koinonia Farm, a small, interracial, Christian community outside of Americus, Georgia. Koinonia Farm was founded in 1942 by farmer and biblical scholar Clarence Jordan.

The Fullers first visited Koinonia in 1965. They had recently left a successful business and an affluent lifestyle in Montgomery, Alabama to begin a new life of Christian service.

At Koinonia, Jordan and Fuller developed the concept of “partnership housing.” The concept centered on those in need of adequate shelter working side by side with volunteers to build simple, decent houses.

The houses would be built at no profit and interest would not be charged on the loans. Building costs would be financed by a revolving fund called “The Fund for Humanity.” The fund’s money would come from the new homeowners’ house payments, no-interest loans provided by supporters and money earned by fund-raising activities. The monies in the Fund for Humanity would be used to build more houses.

Through the work of Habitat, thousands of low-income families have found new hope in the form of affordable housing. Churches, community groups and others have joined together to successfully tackle a significant social problem – decent housing for all.

Today, Habitat For Humanity has built more than 300,000 houses, sheltering more than 1.5 million people in more than 3,000 communities worldwide.  (History and statistical information was gathered from Habitat For Humanity International website http://www.habitat.org/)

If you would like to become a Habitat For Humanity of the Eastern Panhandle volunteer, please visit their website http://www.hfhep.org/page6.html.

2009 Blitz Build Sponsors: AC&T, Around the Panhandle Magazine, AskNeal, LLC, Basic Electric Service-BES, Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority, Berkeley Paint and Flooring, Blankley’s Tent Rental, Bob Butler, Coldwell Banker Premier Prop., Brothers Pizza, Budget Blinds of the Eastern Panhandle, Chic-Fil-A, City National Bank, Cliff’s General Contracting, Code Plus Components, Countertop Solutions, Curtis custom Concrete, Daily Grind, Dan Ryan Builders, Denis burns, LPC, Eric Carper of Power Mortgage, Ferguson Enterprises, Fox & Associates, Inc., Green Horizon Turf Farms, HEMCO Heating and Air, Home Doctor Co., InnerSpace Floor to Ceiling, Jackson Williams Appraisers, Jay & Nancy Deeds, Jefferson Rentals, Peterson Investment Consulting Group, K & V Flooring, Keller Williams Rice Realty, Lemaster Auctioneering Service, Long & Foster on Foxcroft, Lowe’s of Martinsburg, Lumber Liquidators, Maax Plastics, Mid Atlantic Farm Credit, Mountain States Insulation, Mountain View Solar & Wind, MVB Bank, Nan Stevens, Natalie Hoffmann of Keller Williams Realty, Newbraugh’s Lumber & Building Supply, North Star Foundations, Inc., Novabrik, Panhandle Builders & Excavating, Panhandle Pumping, Inc., Pill & Pill, Placanica Surveying Co., Potomac Construction Industries, Prime Lending, Professional Designs and Services Inc., Progressive Printing, R & L Landscapes, Robie Homes, Sensel Signs, Simonton Windows, State Farm Insurance, Stephens Painting LLC, Tara Mason, The Roof Center, Tressler Plumbing LLC, United Bank, Velux, and Warm Springs Eatery.