City of Boston Develops Energy-Positive Homes
The city of Boston unveiled a row of four energy-positive townhouses – homes that generate more energy than they consume – on August 27 in the Roxbury neighborhood. The project, part of the city's attempt to provide more eco-friendly housing options, were launched by the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Department of Neighborhood Development.
A growing trend in green construction and design is to develop houses that use zero energy. In other words, these homes would produce enough energy to power themselves. While similar projects around the U.S. are pushing towards the same zero goals, Boston decided not to stop at zero. The positive energy homes are some of the nation's first structures to not only create enough energy to power the home, but actually add renewable energy to the electricity grid.
The units, constructed by Urbanica, Inc., are three stories tall and consist of three bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths and almost 2,000 square feet. Each is equipped with rooftop solar panels, allowing the structures to generate renewable energy.
In addition, the homes were built to be efficient. Each townhouse is LEED certified platinum—the highest attainable green accreditation. To meet these qualifications, contractors used triple-glazed windows to reduce heat gain, rain water harvesting equipment to utilize the natural resource and double-thick insulation to reduce heating and cooling costs.
The energy-positive townhouses cost about 15 to 20 percent more than other units in the area, according to Kamran Zahedi, president of Urbanica. Though the city officials originally intended for the homes to sell below $400,000, the housing market in Boston rose sharply when the project reached completion. Each of these energy-positive homes is priced at $550,000, slightly more than the area's median condo price of $540,000 reports the Boston Globe.
Despite the slightly higher price, the Urbanica has had no problem selling the homes. Three of the four units have already been purchased, one of which was sold as part of the city's affordable housing programs for just $217,000.
Beyond the purchase price of the townhouse, homeowners have the option to purchase the solar equipment covering the roof. The unit's 37 photovoltaic solar panels will cost the homeowners an additional $50,000. Alternatively, residents can lease them for $105 per month.
A total price tag of $600,000 to own the home and the solar panels might seem a little high. However, Zahedi estimates the townhouses will produce 10,000 kilowatts of renewable energy—about twice as much as the home actually uses. By selling renewable power back to the local utility and taking advantage of tax credits, homeowners could recoup the costs of the solar panels in five to six years, according to the Boston Globe.
After that, the energy produced by the solar panels can provide enough energy for the home and a profit for the homeowners each month.
What's next for energy-positive housing in Boston?
Urbanica is one of three companies contracted by the city to design and construct energy-positive homes on city-owned land. In addition to Urbanica's development, the city of Boston chose GFC Development to build two energy-positive townhouses in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood and Transformations Inc. to build four energy-positive homes in Roxbury. The Jamaica Plain project is expected to reach completion by the end of September, while construction on the Roxbury property has yet to begin.
City officials hope that as more energy-positive housing is built in Boston costs for the structures will fall, making carbon-free living an affordable option. To reach that goal, the city of Boston is now looking beyond housing developments to create entire green communities.
The Mayor's E+ Green Building Program is accepting proposals for a site in the Mission Hill neighborhood. The city has said the site should include at least 14,000 square feet of dedicated space for community gardens in addition to 25-35 residential units. About 8,000 square feet of the site will be used for energy-positive retail space.