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Students and faculty in the University of Kentucky College of Design are using research and work in the classroom to provide low-cost, energy efficient housing options to Kentuckians, while helping houseboat industry workers expand their skill set to building houses on dry land.

Houseboat to Energy Efficient Residences (HBEER) is a partnership between the UK College of Design, the Center for Applied Energy Research at UK, the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (KHIC) and the Kentucky Housing Corporation (KHC).

The multi-year project was initiated in the fall of 2009 and directly responds to the impact the current economic downturn has had on the houseboat manufacturing industry in the Commonwealth. More than 50 students and faculty at the UK School of Architecture were responsible for researching and developing initial models of energy-efficient, affordable housing that could be produced by the region's houseboat manufacturers.

Today, HBEER is creating green jobs and bringing back to work some of the 575 skilled workers and 1,000 related jobs that were lost in the houseboat manufacturing and marine industries due to the economy.

"This project meets a multitude of needs in our region, by putting families back to work, providing energy-efficient housing, increasing the demand for Kentucky-made products, and creating a hands-on learning experience in the classroom," Congressman Hal Rogers said. "Additionally, it highlights the great success we can achieve when partners join resources for the benefit of families across the state."

Two buyers completed the steps to qualify for affordable, permanent financing in the initial HBEER prototypes in Monticello and Goldbug, Ky. In this applicant driven process, the homes were occupied as soon as the financing was arranged.

"The opportunities are endless for creating safe, energy-efficient, affordable homes while adding good-paying jobs to the local economy and promoting Kentucky products," said KHIC President and CEO Jerry Rickett. "We are proud to be partners with the University of Kentucky and local employers to make this vision a reality."

Highlights of the HBEER project include:

  • Estimated energy costs at current rates are expected to be about $1.65 per day, which is one-half to one-sixth of energy bills for other housing alternatives.
  • More than 80 percent of the home value is derived from products made in Kentucky and Kentucky labor, which further increases the jobs created or saved.
  • When the partnership began in 2009, Stardust Cruisers had 12 full-time employees and 12 contract workers. As of January 2012, Stardust has 56 full-time employees, including six who are dedicated to the HBEER project. As a result of this project, Stardust also has improved the energy efficiency of its houseboats and is one of the few houseboat manufacturers exporting new products.
  • The next phase of the HBEER project includes a prototype for multifamily housing, as well as classroom space for schools as an energy efficient and more durable alternative to portable classrooms. In addition, the space will be flooded with natural lighting, which studies show improves learning.

"The transfer of knowledge and expertise gained during the HBEER project traces the path of an arc leading directly from design research conducted at the University of Kentucky to design products meant to address important energy and economic needs of communities in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and beyond,” said UK College of Design Dean Michael Speaks.

HBEER has received financing from the U.S. Department of Energy through the Kentucky Department of Local Government and the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Appalachian Regional Commission, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation and UK.