USGBC Massachusetts on ZE buildings: “Saving Money from the Start”

September 18, 2019


USGBC Masschusetts just released its report, “Zero Energy Buildings in Massachusetts: Saving Money from the Start,” drawing on several case studies of built projects, including a trailblazing Passive House project in South Boston. The report defines “Zero Energy” to include buildings that are “optimally efficient”, maximize onsite renewable energy generation potential, then procure any additional energy through power purchase agreements of offsite renewable energy.

The report’s five key takeaways:

  1. ZE buildings are being built in Massachusetts today with zero additional up-front costs.
  2. Return on investment for ZE Existing and New Office Buildings can be as little as one year for ZE ready buildings.
  3. Of the six building types studied, all can be Zero Energy Ready (ZER) for upfront costs of 0 – 7%, and when zero energy, all types break even in eight years or less when there are no additional upfront costs.
  4. Existing office buildings retrofitted to zero energy, with renewables, can produce a return on their investment in as little as five to six years, given today’s incentive structure.
  5. Building energy demand can be reduced 44 – 54% across all building types with technology that’s readily available today.

“The perception that zero energy buildings always cost more upfront and over the long term is a myth; the reality is that zero energy buildings are a smart investment,” according to the report. “There are actions we can take to make achieving ZE buildings easier. This study and the exemplary projects highlighted within can be used as a guide to looking past perceived obstacles and as a template for promoting zero energy buildings as smart investments.”

One such exemplary project highlighted in the report is The Distillery North, Massachusetts’ first Passive House multifamily, located in South Boston and designed by ICON Architecture. The 28 unit building cut energy use by a revolutionary 83% compared to the 2010 ASHRAE baseline for mid-rise apartments in the region.

“Many people already know the environmental benefits green buildings bring to our communities and our world, but few understand the economic benefits of this investment, writes Meredith Elbaum, Executive Director of USGBC Massachusetts. “Zero energy buildings can be constructed or retrofitted for minimal upfront costs, if any, and owners can start making money off of their investment sooner than they expect. Our hope is that this report demonstrates that owning, operating, and living in a zero energy building is within reach for many of us here in Massachusetts.”

This finding jibes with Passive House cost data from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency that suggests that, at least in Pennsylvania, multifamily Passive House buildings may be no more expensive to build than conventional apartment buildings. (See article on page 23 of NAPHN’s Policy Resource Guide.)

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