Saint Martin's engineering students design first low-impact cottage housing development for local Habitat For Humanity

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Lacey, Wash. - Fifteen Saint Martin’s College senior civil engineering students, working with South Puget Sound Habitat for Humanity, have designed the first cottage housing development in Olympia. The fifteen-home development is making major advances towards fulfilling Habitat for Humanity’s desire to create sustainable housing by using a zero/low-impact site design.

Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian organization that works to eliminate poverty housing worldwide by bringing people with resources together with people in need to build decent, affordable houses. Homes are sold at no profit through no interest loans to those in need.

Cottage housing design standards allow for developments of single-family homes to have higher than zoned densities. At the same time, they require the homes to have a small “footprint”(the surface space covered by a building), be clustered about a common open space or courtyard and share parking.

Zero-to-low-impact site design requires that a majority of the site remain undisturbed from its predevelopment state and that most or all storm water infiltrates on-site.

The Saint Martin’s students are participants in a year-long senior design course that is the capstone project in their engineering education. The students were divided into three teams, with each team given a task: designing a community building to be shared by the development, an energy- and resource-efficient home design and a complete site plan, including storm water management. Their objective was to provide Habitat for Humanity with a complete set of permit-ready design drawings for each project for submission to the City of Olympia.

A final design presentation to Habitat for Humanity will be noon to 2 p.m. April 30 in Saint Martin’s Worthington Center.

Unique elements of the site design include the use of permeable pavement, which allows surface water to seep through, infiltrating on the spot, therefore, and eliminating much of the need for storm drains, said John Sladek, the Saint Martin’s civil engineering faculty member teaching the class. Their home design is a green building that is both energy- and resource-efficient. It will feature radiant floor heating and offers two possible resource-efficient building methods, one using a more conventional wood framing technique; the other insulated concrete.

“Their site work is invaluable because it’s allowing us to move into new territory with the low-impact design,” says Gretchen VanDusen, an architect serving with the Habitat for Humanity Design Committee.

Sladek considers this a valuable experience for his students: “When teaching, we tend to focus on the hard engineering skills. It’s much more difficult to teach soft skills, which are as, or more important. This encourages the students to look outside the hard engineering box, to take the big view.”

For more information:
John Sladek,
Assistant professor, engineering

Deanna Partlow, media relations coordinator
Saint Martin’s Office of Communication
360-438-4541 or