Light-Frame Construction, Single-Family Home

Detroit Eco Homes

Eco Homes Infill Project Brings Sustainable Single-Family Construction to Detroit

An urban infill project featuring 13 new single family eco homes is a noteworthy addition to a multi-year revitalization effort in Midtown Detroit.

An unlikely candidate for single-family development, Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood showcases residential green construction at its finest.

“I’ve always felt like this neighborhood had a lot of potential,” says developer Sue Mosey. “There has been a lot of disinvestment and a lot of vacancy — vacant land; vacant buildings. We [were] asking ourselves, ‘how can we do an appropriate urban infill?”

Mosey’s non-profit development firm ​Midtown Detroit, Inc.​ has traditionally focused on historic preservation. However, their latest project, the Detroit Eco Homes – part of the larger ​Selden Corridor Initiative​ – presented the perfect opportunity to bring sustainable single-family housing to the urban landscape.

Harmonious Distinction

The site for the Eco Homes was significant in that it was the only block in Midtown zoned for single-family construction. Historic structures prevail, including Victorian-era housing and turn-of-the-century buildings.

It’s an eclectic neighborhood, both in terms of diversity of people and architecture.“We wanted to make sure that the new homes nestled into the neighborhood, and that we didn’t disrupt what was already there,” says Mosey.

Enter Paul Urbanek, design director at ​SmithGroup​.

Mosey encountered Urbanek’s work when he received a local AIA award for the design of his personal home. She knew immediately that it matched her vision for the Eco Homes project, and asked Urbaneck to help. While SmithGroup does not typically design single-family homes, Urbanek agreed to take on this unique design challenge pro bono.

Capitalizing on an educational opportunity, SmithGroup held an internal design competition among its younger architects. Once a winner was chosen, SmithGroup developed five design variations to seamlessly situate the new buildings on the block while giving individual distinction to each home.

Contemporary Yet Complimentary

To accommodate the relatively small lot sizes (some as small as 35-feet wide), the Eco Homes range in size from 1,400-1,800 square feet, with multilevel, two- and three-bedroom options. They were designed with sloped Gable roof systems and porches in the front and back yard to encourage social interaction and harmonize with the neighboring Victorian aesthetic.

Cedar and fiber siding are mixed throughout, giving a contemporary yet complementary look to the neighborhood. According to​​ a feature​ in the Detroit Free Press, “[The Eco Homes] look like an updated version of a traditional Detroit residential street, with narrow lots, shaded front porches, patios, peaked roofs, alleys in back, single-car garages, and lots of trees.”

Sustainable Differentiation

What differentiates these homes is their sustainable footprint. Each house is designed to meet net-zero requirements – an achievement, Urbanek clarified, that can only prove true once the homes are occupied. The green features, however, are in place, including solar panels on the roof, low-VOC paint, low-flow toilets, and efficient appliances.

In addition to light-frame wood construction sequestering carbon, the home includes a tight envelope and heavy insulation (2×6 framing was used for the walls to create greater depth for extra insulation). Rainwater barrels and rain gardens also help with stormwater management. “We’re always thinking about how we can implement innovative strategies at a neighborhood level,” said Mosey.

Sue Mosey
Executive Director, Midtown Detroit Inc.
Detroit Eco Homes
This project was about appealing to single-family residents while also showcasing our commitment to sustainability.

Innovation at the Neighborhood Scale

Part of innovating at the local level meant community engagement. As the long standing Director of Midtown Detroit, Inc. Mosey shared designs with local residents as part of the project development. In addition, Detroit Midtown, Inc. reserved one of the homes to qualify for low-income housing.

“Watching the city come back has been a wonderful opportunity,” continued Urbanek. “And the city is better right now than it’s ever been in my lifetime. For me, the coolest thing about this project is what it means for the city of Detroit overall. These are well-designed homes. It sets a new direction for the city when it comes to quality residences, and the neighborhood is taking it to heart.”

All of the Detroit Eco Homes were sold as of January 2021.

A New Direction for Detroit

The Eco Homes are only one element of Midtown Detroit Inc’s larger Selden Corridor Initiative, a $20 million community development plan that spans three miles of Detroit’s Midtown, current population of about 21,000 residents – and growing. The first phase of development includes a new restaurant, brewery training school, a community courtyard, new rental units, and an accelerator space for minority-owned start-ups.

Learn more about Midtown Detroit Inc.'s urban revitalization efforts in this Q+A with developer Sue Mosey.

Project Details

  • Architect
    • SmithGroup
  • Developer
    • Midtown Detroit, Inc.
  • Contractor
    • Midtown Building Company
  • Completion Date
    • 2021
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