Green Building Principles

The City of Newton is writing a bold Climate Action Plan, which is wholly appropriate in light of the urgent need to address climate change. If the City is going to meet its climate change goals, it must have a strong green building policy to match.

Indeed, buildings account for 39% of worldwide CO2 emissions: 28% for building operations and 11% for buildings’ embodied energy.  Hence, we must decarbonize our buildings to avoid climate catastrophe.

With recognition of the climate crisis, and the progress made in green building practices and policy, Green Newton calls for the City of Newton, and all governments, to use the following principles to evaluate and guide building projects.

 

1. Minimize Building Operating Energy

The Passive House Building Standard for Boston should be the standard for all building types. Passive House qualified buildings have very low energy use intensity (EUI).

2. Minimize Embodied Carbon

Embodied carbon is the carbon dioxide produced by the manufacture and transportation of building materials. In other words, it’s “the carbon dioxide released when we construct our buildings in the first place.”

Given that the carbon footprint of construction can far outweigh the carbon footprint of operations over the first few decades of a building’s lifecycle, it’s critical that we pay attention to embodied carbon when designing and planning new buildings and renovations.

Thoughtful design and materials selection minimizes embodied carbon. For example, buildings that use less concrete and steel and more engineered lumber reduce their carbon footprints. Such buildings should be favored by City building officials.

It can be cumbersome to estimate the embodied carbon of a new building, but it’s getting easier. Good tools include Revit plug-ins, Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and on-line calculators.

Here is a helpful resource.

The carbon footprint of the electrical grid is getting smaller year by year, as more renewable energy come on line. The carbon footprint of the gas grid, however, is staying the same or possibly increasing as methane continues to leak from the fracking network and aging distribution pipes. Also, all-electric buildings can be fully carbon neutral when owners or occupants purchase 100% renewable electricity.

When new buildings rely on a gas connection for heat, domestic hot water and cooking, they lock in a high carbon footprint.

Heat pump technologies like variable refrigerant flow, and food preparation technologies like induction cooktops, are used worldwide today. They now have favorable lifetime costs.

4. Minimize the Carbon Footprint for Transportation to and from Buildings

The carbon footprint for transportation used by building occupants and customers is also significant. Building owners must facilitate low-carbon modes of transport, such as bicycles, electric vehicles, walking, and public transportation.

The City can help by reducing or eliminating parking minimums, and instead specify parking maximums.

 

 

Green Building Case Studies

 

The following buildings exemplify the principles described above.

 

Multi-Family Housing

Beach Green Dunes, Queens, NY. This 100-unit apartment Passive House certified apartment building includes affordable housing and units for disabled people.
Bayside Anchor Apartments, Portland, ME. This 45-unit apartment building has mostly affordable units.
The DIstillery North Distillery North Apartments, South Boston, MA. This project has 28 apartments, 28,933 square feet and 6 stories.
211 West 29th, New York City, NY. This 24 story, 55 unit building is being constructed to meet Passive House standards.
Elm Place Multi-Family, Milton, VT. Elm Place has 30, affordable one-bedroom apartments for seniors.
Village Centre Apartments, Brewer, ME. Village Centre Apartments is Passive House certified. It has 48 units of affordable housing, and is 54,000 square feet in size.
Gilford Village Knolls, Gilford, NH. This 24-apartment, affordable multifamily complex has 24 one-bedroom suites.
Parker Positive, Boston, MA. This 8-unit project will have 10,000 square feet among three buildings.
Linnaean Apartments, Cambridge, MA. This 20 unit elderly affordable housing project will have 20 units and 25,000 square feet.
Perch Harlem, New York City, NY. This 7-story, Passive House certified building has 34 rental units.

Single Family Housing

Newton Net Zero, Newton Massachusetts. This 3900 square foot home is Passive House compliant.
Montague, MA Home. This 1152 square foot home exports energy to the grid.

Office / Retail / Mixed Use

310 N. Sangamon, Chicago, Illinois. This 12-story office building has feature 268,000 square feet of office space and 7,800 square feet of retail space.
Winthrop Square Tower, Boston, MA. This 1.6 million square foot skyscraper will have 500 condominiums, and 750,000 square feet devoted to offices, retail space and public space. It will be the fourth largest building in New England. The owners will apply for Passive House certification.
Health Professions & Student Services Building, North Shore Community College, Danvers MA. This multi-purpose 58,000 square foot building is, “the Commonwealth’s first state-owned Zero Net Energy building.” It houses classrooms, the college’s health programs and student and administrative support services.
Austin Street, Newton MA. Austin Street is well served by commuter rail, express bus and a local bus that connects to the Green Line.
Washington Place, Newton MA. This project is also is well served by commuter rail, express bus and a local bus that connects to the Green Line.

Schools

John J. Sbrega Health and Science Building, Bristol Community College, Fall River, MA. This 50,600 square foot structure is claimed to be, “the largest zero net energy (ZNE) classroom and science lab building in the Northeast.”
Friends School of Portland, Portland Maine. This K – 8, 15,000 square foot school has achieved net zero status.
Wayneflete New Lower School (elementary), Portland, Maine. This 21,475 square foot Lower School is Passive House compliant.
Riedberg Passive House School, Frankfurt, Germany. This primary school and day nursery is compliant with Frankfurt’s resolution that, “all future kindergartens and schools will be built in the Passive House construction method.”
Secondary School, Baesweller, Germany. This 12,841 square meter school meets the Passive House Standard.
[Updated January 4, 2019]