Energy Efficiency in the 100 Homes Program

September 25, 2019

Our amazing Real Estate intern Connor spent the summer helping to improve the energy efficiency of buildings in the 100 Homes program. This is his report:

One of the main goals of my summer internship was to help improve the energy efficiency of buildings in the 100 Homes program. Two programs, Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) and Building Envelope Materials (BEM) had already been contacted in order to pursue this goal. Several months ago, SCC reached out to ABCD to see how they might be able to assist in improving the energy efficiency of our properties in the 100 Homes Program. The majority of the buildings in the program are older and would benefit greatly from improvements to the lighting, insulation, and windows. ABCD has several programs, including weatherization and heating assistance, for low income units. Generally, half of the units must have a household income of 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI) or less to qualify for the programs. SCC initially began applying on a property by property basis but wasn’t getting much traction. Eventually, we were able to contact ABCD and get a meeting with them, which happened to be on the first day of my internship. At the meeting, ABCD agreed that it would be easier to look at the entire 100 Homes portfolio as one project and they were excited to see what kind of improvements they could make. One responsibility I had was to compile documents showing that the 100 Homes properties met the eligibility requirements for their program. ABCD and its partners provide their services for free for buildings that qualify, which is invaluable to our program.

At the beginning of July one of ABCD’s partners, New Ecology, performed preliminary audits of the 100 Homes portfolio. They saw one unit in each property as well as the heating and water systems and the attic if it was accessible. They used this information to put together a report for ABCD detailing energy use and inefficiencies for each of the properties and the portfolio as a whole. The report also made suggestions on what might be some of the most cost-effective improvements to make.

Another of ABCD's collaborators, Paradigm Partners, decided we should focus specifically on our Austin St. property, which needs a new heating system, as this is the most time sensitive of our needs. During the final week of my internship, Paradigm Partners performed an audit at Austin St. and we are hopeful that a solution will be proposed for the heating system soon.

In the meantime, I worked with Building Envelope Materials to insulate 355 Broadway, the largest building in the 100 Homes program. BEM uses a state-of-the-art spray foam technology that was perfect for 355 Broadway because it can be retrofitted to older buildings and is minimally invasive. The building was built in the mid-20th century and formerly had no insulation, so this was a significant improvement. Other spray foam insulation is generally installed before the walls of a building are complete because the foam expands somewhat haphazardly. The foam developed by BEM expands in a way which fills an enclosed wall cavity evenly and safely, making it perfect for older buildings like ours. The foam was injected through quarter inch holes, roughly twenty-five per wall, which were easily filled in once the foam had set.

The setup for the project was minimal. The tenant’s furniture had to be moved a few feet away from exterior walls, then we put down a drop cloth and covered the baseboards with plastic to catch any falling foam. For the most part, two units were insulated per day, and the project took about two weeks in total. There are 16 units in the building and overall the project went smoothly. Tenants seemed excited for the improvement and one noted, only a week after the insulation was installed, that the level of noise had decreased noticeably in her apartment.

One slight drawback of the project is that the windows at 355 Broadway are outdated and leak air. Because of this, we have been told that the insulation may not have a huge impact on utility costs. This is a good example of a challenge that comes with improving the energy efficiency of older buildings. As is the case at Broadway, one improvement may only be maximally efficient if it is done in tandem with another improvement. Another example of this is at Austin St. where the heating system needs to be replaced. We are hoping to put in a forced air system, but in order to make this system cost effective we will also need to insulate the building. While at Broadway it still made sense to insulate the building even with the outdated windows, it showcases a major challenge in making cost effective efficiency improvements to the kind of buildings that make up the 100 Homes program.

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