Low Energy: beautiful and affordable

In recent months, I’ve been seeing amazing results of ultra-high-performance buildings come across my desk. Last fall, a 15-unit 4-story multifamily building was complete at Ecovillage in Ithaca. A few weeks ago, I received a few months of utility bills, which we examined and found that the building is using about 1/10 the energy of a typical apartment building! (To be geeky, it’s Energy Utilization Index is below 10 kBtu/SF/year.) But even more astonishing, its construction cost was only $124 per square foot, including all hard costs! If we assume an additional 30% for other costs (architecture, land, etc.), this would bring the total up to about $160/SF. When I compare these numbers to national average construction costs, this means that the building did not cost more than a typical multifamily building! And you should see it, it’s BEAUTIFUL – wood balconies, large south-facing windows, and much more – check out the photo below. How did they do it? Green Building Illustrated lists 16 ways in which buildings can be designed and built to use less energy while ALSO costing less to build. So I compared that list to this beautiful and affordable building, and found that this building used 11 out of the 16 strategies. These include reduced surface area, modest window area, no attic or basement, and more.

So there you have it. A real-life example of how a building can be built to use almost zero energy, AND not cost any more than a typical building. For me, the skies have opened. I now know that we can do what we once thought was impossible.

Photo credit: Jim Grant.



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