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Ultra-Efficient Apartment Buildings in New England Are Part Of 'Big Wave'

Ultra-Efficient Apartment Buildings in New England Are Part Of 'Big Wave' Rhode Island Public Radio (08/07/2017) Bever, Fred

Passive housing, a new type of energy-efficient construction, is drawing greater attention in parts of the United States. Such residences, which are built to achieve ultra-low energy use, are proving to be so efficient that developers can eliminate central heating systems altogether. Imported from Germany, it's been only a boutique building style until recently. New England, in particular, is joining a surge in large-scale passive housing development. The latest example is Bayside Anchor, a four-story, 45-unit building in Portland, Maine. Architect Jesse Thompson said the project had to be cost-effective enough to get financed by public and affordable housing groups. The building has great insulation, includes triple-glazed windows, and the exterior walls are several inches thicker than basic code would require. And, indeed, there is no central heating system. Instead, each of the 45 apartments has a small baseboard electric heater with an estimated electricity cost of just $125 a year.

Of course, it takes more than thick walls to achieve those energy savings. It also takes a near-perfect seal on the building's envelope, along with a high-tech ventilation system to purge moisture while keeping warm or cool air in depending on the weather. Thompson describes it as the building's "lungs," but the technical name is a "heat recovery ventilator." He remarks, "So all the bad air, all the bad smells go out. But the heat stays in." Officials at the Passive House Institute say it is still a huge request to finance market-rate units that won't realize full energy-efficiency savings for decades. Momentum for large-scale passive housing really did start gaining in 2016, though, when the number of buildings the Chicago-based Institute certified doubled -- a number that is on pace to more than double again in 2017 with projects getting bigger and bigger, including a 350-unit New York City high-rise.

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