Category Archives: Buildings

Cambridge City Council Passes Building Energy Usage Disclosure Ordinance

Brian Buckley, High Performance Buildings Associate

Brian Buckley, High Performance Buildings Associate

Last week, during a special meeting of the Cambridge City Council that ran for more than six hours, through the night and into the next day, the Cambridge City Council approved a Building Energy Usage Disclosure Ordinance.  What brought the meeting beyond the midnight hour?  Continue below to find out…

First Things First: What is Building Energy Benchmarking?

Building Energy benchmarking is the process of tracking an existing building’s energy usage over time and comparing the results to similar buildings OR the same building as measured at a different point in time/modeled during design.

Portfolio ManagerBuilding, utility, and fuel data from at least 13 months of usage are collected and uploaded into a tracking software, the most popular of which is the U.S. EPA’s ENERGYSTAR Portfolio Manager. Portfolio Manager normalizes energy data inputs according to weather records and generates a statement of performance that details a building’s Energy Use Intensity (EUI). Additionally, Portfolio Manager will compare a building to similar buildings nationwide and assign a score from 1-100. Those buildings achieving a score of 75 or more are eligible for ENERGYSTAR certification.  Studies show that such certification positively impacts market value of a building.

More than 260,000 buildings, or 40% of the total U.S. commercial building space, has been assessed using portfolio manager.

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Workshop over Whitepaper, Energizing the ZNE Industry

shutterstock_20389108 resized    I started in May, fresh out of my sophomore year at Dickinson College, as NEEP’s High Performance Buildings Intern without the slightest clue what that title entailed. After two weeks of playing catch-up on the wide array of energy efficiency issues tackled by NEEP, I found myself scurrying around at the Newport Hyatt at 7am helping NEEP’s Buildings Team set up for the Daybreak on Zero Net Energy Buildings Workshop at the 2014 NEEP Summit, or #summit14 as we twitter-savvy NEEPer’s called it.

Although I was excited to see the “big picture” after focusing my prior efforts studying specific issues such as energy benchmarking, I was nonetheless fearful that the ZNEB workshop would be as dry and confusing as the PDF documents I had painstakingly scanned through for information on energy benchmarking. With a liberal arts school student’s level of prior exposure to the field of energy efficiency (that is, none), I was expecting to be hopelessly lost in a sea of acronyms and hyphenated phrases. Luckily, my fears were short-lived.

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Building a Modular Net Zero Home: An Update from the Trenches

When I last wrote about our project building a super-efficient, solar-powered home, my husband Tom and I were exhilarated. After months of agony waiting for approval of our septic system and building plans, we finally closed on the acre of land in Salisbury, Mass. Meanwhile, factory construction of the modules at Keiser Homes was already complete.

We had closed on the land and construction loan on April 16. A week later, we were standing in the light rain around a gaping, muddy hole in the ground. As a small crew worked behind us, Tom and I posed for pictures with our architect, builder, town selectman and representatives from Boston magazine, Boston Children’s Hospital and National Grid. It was the groundbreaking ceremony for the magazine’s Design Home 2014, and we beamed like sunshine, despite the weather.


Pictured, L – R:  Beth Lonergan, Ishaga Diagnana, and Dave Gendall of National Grid; Kristen Standish, Publisher of Boston magazine; Michael Bornhorst, Director, Corporate Initiatives at Boston Children’s Hospital; Tom and Natalie Treat, homeowners; Matt Silva, former Sales & Marketing Manager at Ridgeview Construction; Parlin Meyer, Development Director at BrightBuilt Home; and Freeman Condon, Salisbury Town Selectman.

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Short Takes: High Performance Buildings and Codes

NE-CHPS Releases Version 3.0

Archie Cole 1 resizedOn April 8, in conjunction with national healthy schools day, NEEP released the latest update to the Northeast Collaborative for High Performance Schools (NE-CHPS)’s construction and renovation criteria, NE-CHPS 3.0. The updated criteria now covers subjects like crime prevention through environmental design, electric vehicle integration, the zero energy policy indicator scale, enhanced commissioning, and improved acoustic requirements.  These additions to the criteria bolster NE-CHPS as a leader in school construction standards and will ensure that schools using the criteria remain healthy, productive, and safe learning environments. See     blog about the release here.

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The Path to Zero Net Energy Buildings: Join Us June 2!

Claiborne Pell Elementary School, Newport RI

Claiborne Pell Elementary School, Newport RI

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Along with being a trite yearbook quote, this phrase also describes the impetus behind NEEP’s workshop on the path to zero net energy buildings — buildings that generate as much energy as they consume annually. While we currently have the technology and knowledge to design and build these hyper-efficient buildings, we envision a future in which zero net energy construction is the norm instead of a case study.

As part of the 9th Annual Northeast Energy Efficiency Summit, NEEP’s Buildings Team will hold a workshop entitled Daybreak on Zero Net Energy Buildings: Illuminating Our Future with Comprehensive Strategies for the Built Environment. Over the course of the day, we will assess the opportunities and challenges facing the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region (and beyond) and draw cross-cutting connections between short and long-term strategies for realizing a zero net energy future. Policymakers, practitioners, utility program managers and real estate professionals will lead discussions exploring the public policies, technologies and innovations, and stakeholder partnerships necessary for realizing our zero net energy building future.

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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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