Category Archives: Buildings

Our Net Zero Odyssey: Building a Modular, High-Efficiency Home

Our net zero energy home will soon be complete!

At long last, our net zero energy home is moving from conception to reality.

Deciding to go for net zero energy was the easy part of building a home. My work at Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) and my husband Tom’s strong interest in sustainable building made it a natural choice. We knew the additional upfront costs of building with more insulation, better windows and high efficiency equipment was a smart investment that we’d recover in lower monthly energy bills, increased comfort, and someday higher resale value.

But making it through all the “usual” hurdles: securing financing, buying land, working with the architect and builder, getting permits and navigating local politics has been more intense than Tom and I could have imagined. That, and the added twist that our house is being featured as the Boston Magazine Design Home of 2014.

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Northeast CHPS 3.0: The New and Improved School Performance Protocol

The State of our Schools

healthy schools day

April 8, 2014 is National Healthy Schools Day.  Coordinated by the Healthy Schools Network, National Healthy Schools Day is meant to raise awareness of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) issues affecting our schools’ faculty, staff, and students.

Each weekday, 55 million children and 2 million adults—roughly 20% of the entire U.S. population—spend their day inside a school.  Yet, many of our school buildings still contain harmful environmental health hazards such as asbestos, lead paint, mold, heavy metals, pesticides, and other volatile organic chemicals.  This need not be the case.

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Technology, Partnerships Help Shelters Save Energy and Money

Dave McMahon, Co-Executive Director of Dismas House

Dave McMahon, Co-Executive Director of Dismas House

Energy costs can be an enormous burden to social service providers who typically operate on a shoe-string, and often in older, in-efficient facilities. Finding ways to save energy is crucial to stretching our budgets and increasing comfort for residents— while also reducing environmental impact of our buildings.

The Worcester Green Low Income Housing Coalition (WGLIHC ) has been creating substantial reductions in energy costs for participating agencies in Central Massachusetts through energy audits and partnerships with state energy efficiency programs to insulate, install new heating equipment, utilize capital funds, and take advantage of state solar credits. These savings, tracked by Wegowise software, are creating opportunities to reinvest into the housing infrastructure and strengthen the standing of agencies after four years of poor revenue growth in the state.

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Ma. StretchCode or: How I Learned to Stop Updating and Love the Timebomb

Unless Massachusetts communities push to update the state’s Stretch Code before July 1, 2014, the 20% boost in building energy efficiency it provides will evaporate, creating market confusion and violate the very concept behind its inception.

What is the Massachusetts Stretch Code?

If the title and picture seem completely bizarre to you, I’d highly recommend watching Dr. Strangelove after you finish reading this post. It’s a classic.

If the title and picture seem completely bizarre to you, I’d highly recommend watching Dr. Strangelove after you finish reading this post. It’s a classic.

Written in 2009, the Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code (Appendix AA) is a voluntary supplement to the energy code designed to help cities and towns claim incentives offered by the Green Communities Act. The Stretch Code is approximately 20 percent more energy efficient than the state’s current base code, the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (2009 IECC), yielding annual energy savings of over $500 per home. [MORE]

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NE-CHPS Paves the Way Forward for Schools

When you think back to your days spent in school what do you remember?

Was it a favorite teacher? The countless trips to the vending machine between classes? A visceral rush of excitement after your crush unexpectedly sat next to you in biology?  I recently asked a colleague to recount her high school experience and received a surprising answer in return.

“My school was like a prison!”

Not because it was strict but because the architect who designed it also happened to design prisons.

Schools and prisons, go figure…

The school was dark with little natural light, had the ventilation of a prehistoric cave, the ceiling tiles were covered with stains and often had  overlooked, unusual growths – the list went on. If a student compares school to prison, that comparison should reflect the student’s displeasure for getting out of a cozy bed rather than the design of the school itself.

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The ICC Public Comment Hearings with Kevin and Don

The ICC Hearings:

From October 2-9 building officials, industry representatives, and energy efficiency advocates met for the 2013 Public Comment Hearings in Atlantic City, NJ to finalize revisions to the International Code Council’s (ICC) suite of construction codes.

Hundreds of proposals to change one of these so called “I-codes,” the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), were crammed into the last four days of the Public Comment Hearings.  With days starting at 8AM sharp and ending as late as 11:30PM, only those with terrific stamina would have been able to take part in the extracurricular amusements offered by the venue.

The IECC is revised every three years, with the new version finalized this month being the 2015 IECC [the “I-codes” are confusingly labeled a different year from when they were written].

Enter Kevin and Don:

Kevin Rose, Building Energy Technical Associate, and Don Vigneau, Building Energy Codes Expert, enjoy some fine Atlantic City cuisine.

Kevin Rose, Building Energy Technical Associate, and Don Vigneau, Building Energy Codes Expert, enjoy some fine Atlantic City cuisine.

As the title suggests, this was my first time attending the Public Comment Hearings—though technically, it was everyone’s first time, since they were formerly known as the Final Action Hearings. I had the good fortune of attending with fellow NEEPer Don Vigneau, a member of the IECC Residential Code Development Committee and a veteran of many previous hearings, who handled my questions about the hearing process and provided a consistent source of banter between trips to the front of the room to testify.

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Building Rating Helps Markets Understand and Value Energy Efficiency

Everyone knows that one way to judge the performance of a car is by its fuel efficiency, and car manufacturers love to crow about cars with high ‘miles per gallon’ ratings. But, what if there was a way to assess “MPG” for buildings that gave potential owners or renters a sense of how much it would cost to operate their building over time? The idea is gaining traction in cities and states around the U.S., and internationally – where a number of countries require a building’s energy rating to be prominently displayed.

Building Energy Benchmarking and Disclosure

Building energy benchmarking and disclosure policies allow access to information that enables the market to value and respond to building energy performance.

 Building energy benchmarking and disclosure policies allow access to information that enables the market to value and respond to building energy performance — helping consumers make informed choices,  similar to MPG stickers or food labels.

This year, Boston became the first city in New England, and the eighth nationwide, to enact a building energy reporting and disclosure ordinance (BERDO).  In May, the Boston City Council voted to adopt energy benchmarking for large buildings. The goal? To promote energy and carbon savings in Boston’s commercial and industrial building sector, which is responsible for almost half of the city’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

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New Schools are Built to Last, Can I Go Back?

Back to school? Yes please!

I want to go back to school.

Really I do. I’m not talking about masters’ degrees or professional development courses. I want to go back to middle or high school.

Fried lunches are being replaced with fresh vegetables!

Fried lunches are being replaced with fresh vegetables!

I never thought this would be something that would come out of my mouth.  Not that school was bad – it’s more that I have had enough algebra to last a lifetime (not to mention I wasn’t very good at it.)  It’s more about the unbelievably progressive sustainability initiatives schools are taking on.

Last week I participated in the New England ‘Education Built to Last’ Facilities Best Practice Tour and I learned that some schools are teaching math by growing vegetables. As a visual learner, this is something I could  understand.  Touring these schools made me want to go back. Continue reading

The Monster in My Basement: Tough Lessons in Building Science


Sweetums seems much less scary now that I’ve met the monster called mold.

When I was a little girl, I was convinced that a monster lived in my basement. I was afraid to go downstairs alone in the morning — this terrifyingly vivid image of the dining room floor opening up, and the Muppets ogre Sweetums climbing out.

Decades later as a first-time homeowner, I’ve learned that monsters are real. But instead of a big hairy guy, it’s zillions of microbes of mold that keep me up at night.

NEEP Explores the Opportunities and Challenges of Multifamily Efficiency

Multifamily: A Nut Hard to Crack

Tung Huynh, NEEP's Public Policy Intern

Tung Huynh, NEEP’s Public Policy Intern

Multifamily housing represents an important sector with large untapped energy savings potential. Cost-effective energy efficiency upgrades can reduce energy use by 15-30% in buildings with five or more residential units, translating to almost $3.4 billion in annual utility bill savings for the multifamily sector nationwide. Improving energy efficiency in the multifamily market also contributes to greater local housing affordability and the “green” job market for energy efficiency retrofits. Despite these potential benefits, energy efficiency in the multifamily sector still faces significant policy and market barriers due to the complex landscape of the multifamily world.

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