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New England Will Get Two New High-Performance Housing Communities

Passivhaus in Bangor, Maine, and ‘energy-positive’ in Boston

Posted on Mar 22 2013 by Scott Gibson

Small communities of PassivhausA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates.-certified and net-zero energyProducing as much energy on an annual basis as one consumes on site, usually with renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics or small-scale wind turbines. houses seem to be popping up more frequently. Two more are in the planning stages this year in New England, one in Boston and the other in Bangor, Maine.

In Bangor, a small city well away from the big money and expensive architecture along the Maine coast, a real estate company is working on plans for a half-dozen houses on a lot once occupied by a commercial laundry. Project manager David Kelly says he hopes all of them can be Passivhaus certified.

In Boston, city officials have begun accepting proposals from developers to build net-zero energy houses on 11 vacant city-owned lots in the Mission Hill section of the city. According to an article at, the houses will be expected to produce more energy than they consume, not just be net-zero consumers.

EcoHomes in Bangor

The Bangor project is the work of House Revivers and Kelly Realty Management, which owns and manages both commercial and residential properties in the city of 33,000.

Kelly says details for the first house are still being worked out, but he’s currently leaning toward a structural 2x4 wall with non-structural I-joists creating a cavity for insulation. “It seems really cost feasible and something that would be easy to relay to the insulation and framing crews in the area,” he says.

There are six potential house lots on the site. Preliminary plans call for houses in the 1,000-to-1,500-sq. ft. range, selling for between $200,000 and $250,000. Kelly expects most to be two-story designs and says it’s unlikely they’ll all look the same.

Big-ticket houses are common along the coast, long a destination for wealthy out-of-staters and retirees. But Bangor is the gateway to the state’s north country, where money is tighter and high-efficiency, high-end houses aren’t the norm.

“It’s a very different culture, it really is,” Kelly says. “And in addition, it’s a very different financial demographic, so we have to build it super affordable to make it feasible for people.

“The first one is a chance for us to get a bearing on how to do the assemblies right and get a model house up,” Kelly adds. “There really aren’t any other structures in the area that are up to the standards we’re striving for. So being able to show it to people and walk through it and go the possibilities is, I think, key in this area.”

Kelly says he’s worked with his parents on a variety of construction projects over the years in their real estate business. But the 27-year-old says he has a background in philosophy, not architecture, and he now finds himself designing the house, working on marketing and estimation and even taking the first run at energy modeling.

In addition to building high-performance houses, Kelly says a second important focus will be “permaculture site planning,” which he described as using landscaping and site features creatively.

“When we design a passive solar shelter, we're already thinking, carefully, about how it interacts with a surrounding environment, on many levels,” Kelly wrote in a follow-up email. “Ecological design concerns itself with expanding those considerations well beyond the shell — to landscaping on a whole site level.”

Boston’s E+ Community

Boston is collecting proposals for a mixed-use project of commercial, retail and residential space on 1.3 acres of land in Mission Hill. The project is part of an initiative launched by the city’s mayor in 2011 to encourage “deep green, energy positive, healthy and sustainable communities.”

Developers have until mid-June to submit proposals, and the city hopes to select the winner by the end of the year, with construction to start in 2014.

There are two sites, which developers can bid on together or separately. In all, the city sees room for as many as 35 residential units.

According to, The Boston Globe’s web site, developers will be required to meet certain prerequisites. Housing will have to meet the LEEDLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. -Platinum standard, and 14,000 sq. ft. of the space will have to be reserved for a community garden. Also, the city will require that 15% of the housing be affordably priced. Developers who propose more than that will be given preference.

The first “energy-positive” project in the program is an 8,000-sq. ft. building with four townhouses in Roxbury, the Globe said, each of which is a three-bedroom unit with 39 solar panels and other energy-saving features.

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  1. David Kelly

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