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Louisiana House: Building for the Future

Erosion. Mold. Floods. Termites. Hurricanes. Heat and humidity. Building a home in Louisiana can be a nerve-racking adventure, especially post-Katrina. Those outside the state may not understand why residents choose to stay. The reasons, however, are as varied as the people who live here. Simply put, there is no place like home, which is something educators at the LSU AgCenter’s Louisiana House know very well. Their goal is to make it easier for Louisianans to rebuild and stay.

The Louisiana House Resource Center has been years in the making, yet its development could not have come at a better time. Referred to as LaHouse, the project was in mid-construction in late 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita damaged or destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes in Louisiana. Rebuilding is now a top priority for many Louisiana residents, and LaHouse is leading the charge by showcasing and teaching “stronger, safer, smarter” construction techniques.

Located on a seven-acre site at the edge of LSU’s campus, LaHouse acts as an evolving, educational home and landscape resource center for contractors, homeowners, and designers by demonstrating the best practices for building in the Gulf Coast region.

“The storms catapulted the project because of the instant and huge need for what it was designed to address,” said Claudette Reichel, LaHouse project chair and LSU AgCenter housing specialist. Reichel added that LaHouse was modeled after a similar educational homebuilding center in Florida, “which had a tremendous impact in their community, changing the way homes were built and landscaped for the benefits of ‘sustainable’ housing.”

“Building sustainable homes is about meeting today’s needs without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs,” said Reichel. “It means building in way that’s good today and good for the future.”

LaHouse applies five criteria to sustainable housing and landscaping - resource efficiency, durability, healthiness, practicality, and convenience – and presents a variety of options for achieving these goals. The LaHouse project highlights “a multiplicity of systems,” allowing builders and homeowners to customize their approach by using the method and materials most appropriate for their particular situation. Among other things, LaHouse exhibits four types of foundation systems for flood zones, four different building construction systems, three different high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, and multiple types of roofing, siding, windows, and doors. Storm-safe rooms, hurricane straps, and water barriers are showcased, but hurricanes and floods are not the only environmental obstacles that are tackled. Formosan termite protection measures include several layers of defense such as chemically treated wood and soil treatment under the concrete slab, as well as steel mesh barriers on plumbing pipes that prevent termites from entering.

Through this project, the AgCenter hopes to demonstrate that homeowners can live in an aesthetically appealing environment, while reducing energy dependence and disaster vulnerability. In addition, it plans to show that businesses can thrive by providing products and services that help homeowners realize these goals. “Thousands have toured LaHouse,” said Reichel. “Visitors have expressed a lot of appreciation for having this as a resource, especially those impacted by the storms.”

From the roof to the foundation, LaHouse is an open book begging to tell its story – and it seems patrons are listening. Though construction has resumed, LaHouse is open to the public each Friday (except holidays) from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. LaHouse Coordinator Sandy Scallan and Extension faculty at the site are eager to answer questions and provide brochures and product samples. “What delights me is when I have ‘return’ visitors who come back to see the latest changes and let me know that they have found the information helpful and have used it in their homes,” said Sheri Fair, an AgCenter Extension agent on the LaHouse project team.

Funded by private gifts and donations, construction is targeted for completion in June. At that time, descriptive signage and special cutaways will allow visitors to learn about construction methods and materials used at each stage of the building process. Seminars and workshops for builders and consumers will be held in a teaching center located in the garage area of the home. Environmentally appropriate landscaping will be showcased on the grounds, including native Louisiana trees and wetland/semi-wetland plants that are flood and salt tolerant. A porous "green" parking area that allows for drainage will also be featured outside of the home, as well as storm water management features.

Those who cannot make it to LaHouse or want to learn more about the project can find a wealth of information and track its progress online at www.LouisianaHouse.org. Web visitors can browse the online training center, complete with step-by-step video instruction for installing components like window flashing, insulation, and HVAC systems. As construction on the home continues, more video tutorials will be added to the site.

Even after construction, LaHouse is meant to evolve and grow as new solutions are researched and become available to consumers and industry professionals. “We hope to eventually showcase new bio-based products, solar and other renewable energy technologies, and additional building systems in future structures on site,” added Reichel.

The advocation of better, sustainable housing can only present positive outcomes for the citizens and businesses of the Gulf Coast. Those involved with LaHouse take pride in the roles they are playing to shape a more positive future for this region. “It’s truly a partnership project,” said Reichel. “I’m so grateful for the LSU System and AgCenter administration and the more than 100 sponsors who made it possible, especially general contractor Roy Domangue of Wooden Creations and designer Trula Remson of Remson-Haley-Herpin Architects.”

“I am proud of all aspects of LaHouse – from the resource center it is to the educational programs we offer to the industry, as well as consumers,” said Fair. “I want my time and effort to positively impact people’s lives and to know that I have a part in the rebuilding of Louisiana.”

Tamara Mizell | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Spring 2007

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