Module was founded with the goal of bringing good design to more people. Our team aims to do well by doing good, and we are proud of the social and environmental impact our company has on the communities we work in. For the first time since founding our company in 2016, we’ve decided to publish an impact report. 2020 has been a challenging year for people around the world, which made it all the more important to bring a positive impact through the conscious decisions we make through the homes we build and the partnerships we form.
For us, social impact refers to the type of community development work that we engage in. There are several issues that we focused on in 2020, including providing affordable housing, working on “development without displacement” in low-income census tracts, and creating diverse construction teams to deliver our projects. In particular, housing affordability is a mission-critical issue in any city, including Pittsburgh. While overall Pittsburgh’s cost of living is affordable relative to other larger cities in the US, there still remains a shortage of affordable housing units in the city - as many as 17,000 according to a Public Source article.
We designed our housing development on Black Street as “mixed income,” meaning it provides housing options for households of various income levels. Of the three homes we built on Black Street, one is a duplex unit (live/work space), one is a market rate home, and one is designated for affordable housing. Locating an affordable housing unit amidst market rate housing was intentional. Oftentimes, large affordable housing complexes are built in one area of a neighborhood (sometimes a less desirable part) which leads to concentrated poverty and stigmatizes affordable housing. By building market rate and affordable homes within the same development, we are promoting equitable opportunity to location. This strategy is critical to a healthy community fabric where households of different income have the opportunity to live on the same street, AND in the same development.
Specifically, the affordable home on Black Street, located at 5456 Black Street was sold to a homebuyer making less than 80% of the median income in Pittsburgh. The sales price of the home was $183,794, which is significantly less than the cost to build the home. To fill this “gap,” Module assembled grant funding, in-kind contributions of materials, and secured a commitment from the Urban Redevelopment Authority to provide secondary mortgage financing for a qualified buyer. Module collaborated with the local neighborhood organization - Bloomfield Garfield Corporation - as a partner in securing the grant funding for the project. The following is a breakdown of the gap financing we secured:
A $70,000 Housing Opportunity Fund Grant
A $35,000 Pittsburgh Housing Construction Fund Grant
In-kind contributions of materials from Module Innovation partners.
In addition to these sources, Module did not take a developer’s fee from the sale of this house, and contributed approximately $30,000 of in-kind work and capital into this unit.
Working with women and minority business owners to deliver the project
The process of building homes and developing property can have an impact on the community through job creation. We provided construction contracts to several small businesses through the Black Street development, and we strived to ensure some of those businesses were women-owned or minority-owned businesses to promote equity and inclusion. Our general contractor of record on the project, Blockhouse Residential, is a women-owned business. With the help from Blockhouse, our team added 4 subcontractors who were minority contracting businesses in electrical, site preparation and general labor. In addition, Module helped all minority and women owned businesses involved in the construction to become certified with Urban Redevelopment Authority’s MWBE self-certification.
Covid Modular Housing Task Force
At the beginning of the pandemic, it was believed that many hospitals across the US would become overwhelmed given the limited number of available ICU beds. In an effort to create housing solutions to alleviate the hospital bed capacity issue, we worked alongside our contracting partner Blockhouse Residential to create the “Covid Modular Housing Task Force.” Over several weeks we developed a new housing unit that could serve as temporary isolation space during the pandemic and be converted to long term affordable housing post-pandemic. We engaged local government officials, healthcare providers, healthcare workers, and local design professionals to modify and improve the design. We presented our findings via a public webinar, and the next step was to finance a prototype. Unfortunately, this is where the project stalled. We were unable to raise the capital needed to build out a prototype. Overall, we learned quite a bit from the exercise and published a blog post about the initiative.
At Module, having environmental impact means operating our business in a way that reduces our impact on climate change. There are a few tangible ways we do this: pursuing an infill development strategy, using more sustainable building practices, building homes that are energy efficient, and improving indoor air quality for our homeowners.
Building housing on “infill sites,” as opposed to “greenfield sites,” makes our developments inherently more sustainable. A greenfield site is raw, undeveloped land, (like farmland or forest land); whereas, an infill site is a property that previously had some type of structure on it. When building infill, we tap into the existing infrastructure as opposed to creating new infrastructure, which uses less materials. We also return previously developed land that has fallen into disrepair back into a productive part of the neighborhood. The project on Black Street is a great example of infill development.
Sustainable Building Practices
We employ a number of sustainable building techniques, including using modular construction. Building modularly significantly reduces the construction waste we produce to build our homes, because factories are able to reuse some of the waste material created in the construction process. There is also less waste generated onsite because our contractor does not have to frame the house onsite. Additionally, we utilize products made from recycled materials whenever possible. For example in our live/work unit on Black Street, the kitchen cabinets in the bottom unit are made with recycled PET bottles. More information on the Kungsbacka product can be found on IKEA’s website.
The homes on Black street are designed to meet the requirements of the Department of Energy Zero Energy Ready Home program, which places our homes in top tier of energy energy efficient homes in the country. The new homeowners on Black Street will have lower utility bills thanks to our team’s effort to select the most energy efficient HVAC equipment on the market today, EnergyStar Certified appliances, kitchen and bathroom fixtures that carry the WaterSense label, and LED lighting. The homes are 100% electric, which eliminates the combustion of fossil fuels for heating, a big step toward a zero energy home. Module homes also have a superior building envelope when compared to the average new or existing home. We have added a layer of continuous insulation to the walls, increased the amount of insulation in the roof, created a tight thermal envelope, and utilized high performance windows and doors. These improvements reduce the amount of energy required to heat and cool the home, allowing us to depend on smaller, more efficient systems and create a more comfortable environment for residents.
We have measured and documented the energy efficiency of our homes using the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index. The HERS Index is the national industry standard for measuring energy efficiency and calculating a home’s energy performance. The scale ranges from 0 to 150, zero being the most efficient (net zero) 👍 and 150 being the least efficient 👎. Module homes have received HERS ratings from 51-60, making them up to 80% more efficient than the average existing home in the US. This translates to a savings of over $1,400 annually on utility bills when compared to living in an existing home.
The comfort and health of our homeowners are important tenets of our company. We prioritize the thermal comfort of our homes' occupants and the indoor air quality of each house. We source materials that carry labels like GreenGuard, Red List Free, No or Low VOC, to ensure that we are not bringing toxins into the indoor environment. We also employ a piece of equipment called an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERVs) in each of our homes, which ensures the home is receiving a constant supply of fresh air. ERVs also work to filter pollutants and allergens out of the air, while regulating moisture levels to control the growth of mold and mildew. These rigorous material guidelines, and the use of ERVs , create a healthier indoor living environment for all of our clients.
Our Module Innovation Partners
Module launched its Innovation Partners program to facilitate collaboration with industry-leading building products and home goods companies. We learn from their experience, our partners learn from Module’s human-centered approach to homebuilding. Together we push the industry forward. Below is a list of the 2020 Module Innovation Partners and some of their contributions to our pilot project on Black Street.
Dupont assisted with our high performance building envelope. Their team provided technical support and in-kind materials to create a high-performance,resilient building envelope that was installed in the factory. The Dupont exterior insulation and builder wrap serve as a “thermal blanket” for our homes on Black Street, and reduce the heating needs and lifetime of the walls themselves. The exterior continuous insulation also helps keep moisture outside our walls and reduces instances of mould formation. Module and Dupont jointly presented at the International Builder Show to showcase our collaboration.
Cobalt Creed delivered a small-duct high velocity HVAC system for the homes. The system was rated at 14 SEER and the sizing was tailored for our right-sized homes. Our pilot project enabled Cobalt Creed to install a portion of their system in-factory, which reduces on the onsite installation requirements by the local HVAC subcontractor. Their in-kind product and technical support enabled our live/work space to secure Department of Energy Zero Energy Ready Certification.
Mitsubishi delivered our low energy heating system on the affordable home in the Black Street project. Their hyper efficient mini split system will help reduce our incoming homeowner’s utility bills significantly.
IKEA provided in-kind product for the live/work space, including the kitchens and furnishings in the unit. IKEA’s efficient, modern kitchens complement Module’s aesthetic and the company’s commitment to sustainability aligns with our customer’s values.
James Hardie provided a durable, high quality siding solution that uses recycled content. Their discounted material contribution enabled us to have a consistent exterior facade system not only on the market rate homes, but on the affordable home as well.
Lowes provided in-kind materials for some of the accessory structures on the site as well as some of the finish details inside the homes. Working with the local Lowe’s team enabled us to deliver the project on-time even during covid-season.
J Frank Studios provided In-kind landscape architecture services to minimize soil erosion on the project site and add appropriate vegetation to the exterior space between the homes.
Lutron provided smart switches at a discounted price. Their technical support was very helpful in setting up the right selection of switches and lighting solutions for our homes.
Klearwall provided high-performance windows at a discounted price. In addition to the windows being well sealed thermally, they provide great sound insulation which is valuable being on a busy street such a Black st.