Saturday, September 21, 2013

Green Triple Decker Pilot Program - the catalyst

we needed a catalyst, something to get us moving in the right direction or maybe something to get us to pull the trigger, to spend money, and to do the most sustainable project we could afford.  most great projects and ideas need a catalyst.  as you may recall, the Bo01 project in Malmo, Sweden used the European Housing Exposition as it's catalyst for masterplanning the Vastra Hamnen neighborhood and specifically constructing the European Village (note: if you are bored reading my description which was a combination of amazement, awe, and excitement, read this more down to earth, fact filled description).  our Jamaica Plain condo upgrade catalyst started out casual and became very real very fast.

a casual meetup on the front porch over a beer got the deeper conversation started about sustainable living and fixing up our house(s).  every one of the owners (one condo owner per floor) wanted to do something significant to improve each unit as well as the property overall.  this meant coming up with individual strategies as well as thinking about overlap and shared strategies.  in the end we wanted our individual condos to be more comfortable, efficient, and livable and we wanted the whole building to be a great place to call home.  we immediately started talking about the building envelope, about super insulation, and about reduction of energy needs and energy use.  everyone agreed that energy efficiency and sustainability were important, but we didn't know exactly how we would take it to the next level.

one of our crew stumbled upon an announcement from the City of Boston about a "Green Triple Decker" Pilot Program, orchestrated by the BRA.  this program was exactly the catalyst we were looking for to get us going forward.  the City of Boston (along with the energy utilities - NSTAR and NGRID) was offering up to $30,000 to deep energy retrofit approximately 5 triple deckers in Boston.  according to the rules, there would be a preliminary application to narrow down the candidates.  once selected, representatives from the City would work with the homeowners to develop a scope of work that attempted to achieve a HERS rating of 65 or better.

HERS is a system that started in California in 2006 and is now respected across the globe as a method to attach home value (price) to energy use and consumption.  HERS (home energy rating system) basically takes a baseline (bare minimum) typical, wood stud, pink insulation home from 2006 and calls that 100 (as in 100%).  that typical house uses 100% energy.  a worse house (energy wise) uses more than 100 and a better house uses less.  according to this scale, a zero energy house scores a ZERO on HERS and a typical 2006 house scores 100.  an energy star house is 85 (15% better than a typical 2006 home).  the program we were applying for through the City of Boston aimed at 65 (35% better than a typical 2006 home).  our house existing 1000 sf condo, built in 1905 without insulation, would eventually be measured by an official HERS rater.  our unit topped out at 135 (35% worse than a typical home).  going from 35% worse than a new home to 35% better must be a piece of cake, right?
HERS rating, started in California in 2006, aims to tie home energy use to home value.
HERS, a scoring system developing and implemented in California in 2006, is the first successful system to tie home energy use to home value.  the system scores 0 as a zero energy home and 100 as a new "typical" home in 2006.  according to the Green Triple Decker Pilot Program sponsored by the City of Boston, we needed to achieve a HERS rating of 65 or better to receive the grant (35% better than a new home built in 2006). 
as soon as we discovered this potential cash inflow to jump start our sustainable makeover and aim us toward specific energy goals, we flew into production mode.  we drafted an essay for the submission including resumes and appendices.  several members of our condo association had previous experience in sustainable design and construction both in practice and in theory.  in fact, half of us had worked on the 2009 Solar Decathlon project for the BAC/ Tufts zero energy 800 square foot solar home, called curio.  that project could be a blog all to itself, but if you are interested in learning more, check out the department of energy's description of curio.

we applied for the program, ended up on the short list, and eventually were awarded one of five grants to deep energy retrofit our 1905 Jamaica Plain condo.  the next part was the hardest part.  we knew the windows and doors were terrible, that there was virtually no insulation, and that the systems were old and wasteful.  we just needed to figure out what to do, how to do it, where to invest, and how to stretch as far as we could...

to be continued...