Friday, May 13, 2011

Largest Deep Energy Retrofit in the U.S. Underway - Castle Square Apartments

     I recently wrote about the Promise of Deep Energy Retrofits a few posts ago. Well today, I want to share some news about Castle Square Apartments, an existing 1960’s 192 unit mid-rise tower as part of an overall 500 unit low income housing project located in Boston’s South End, is an example of this growing trend.
US HUD Secretary Donovan is to far right of photo
Mass. Governor Menino is in the middle and congressman
Michael Capuano with glasses is in the back,  
    Today, Castle Square Apartments welcomed Shaun Donovan, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Thomas M. Menino, Mayor of Boston and Congressman Capuano who toured the project to learn more about the nation's "largest and most aggressive energy savings project of its kind".  The joined members of the Castle Square Tenants Organization and WinnCompanies the co-developers and owners of this project.   They came to see for themselves the largest example yet of a Deep Energy Retrofit just beginning construction, an important foundation of a broad based strategy to fight climate change and achieve further energy independence.  It's also a great example of the Green Jobs movement in action.
After picture of Castle Square Apartments
    In a well-attended press conference, the visiting guests shared how they supported the work at Castle Square Apartments.  Secretary Donovan said, "We're proud to be a partner in delivering $6.7 million in funding to this project through our Recovery Act Green Retrofit Program that is creating hundreds of jobs and setting the standard for energy retrofits around the country.  By helping make this development more energy efficient we are also improving the quality of life for the hundreds of families who live here."
    Congressman Capuano said he "...appreciate(s) the oppourtunity to see firsthand how the Castle Square Apartments are being renovated with a specific focus on achieving energy savings. Federal stimulus money is being used to partially fund this project, which is creating jobs and improving the quality of life for tenants."
     Mayor Menino, reinforced how the project positively impacted the surrounding community by saying how it "...will create jobs for local workers, preserve 500 units of affordable housing for current and future working families of Boston, and its green design will contribute to the overall health of our City."  He went on further saying "Thanks to local residents and HUD for the collaboration and commitment to preserving Castle Square as a welcoming home for all who live here now and in the future."
    By reusing the existing housing complex and conducting a deep energy retrofit while part of an overall renovation of the apartment building, Castle Square sets a visionary example for others to learn from. With a goal to cut energy use by 72%, the project will take a deep bite out of it energy bill while dramatically reducing its carbon footprint. It also shows how non-profit organizations can continue to keep their missions viable to provide low-cost affordable housing far into the future, even with aging infrastructure.
Before picture of Castle Square Apartments
    Castle Square is the largest such project (the mid-rise tower portion) currently under construction in the U.S. at least for now. (I see this only as a good thing) The 1960’s era Byron Rogers Federal Office building in Denver by The Rocky Mountain Institute as part of its RetroFit program will likely be the largest but its a ways out for its construction. High profile examples of retrofits such as the Empire State Building while certainly an ambitious success story, with a projected 38% energy use reduction does not meet this more aggressive criteria.   
    A deep energy retrofit is broadly defined as a renovation of building producing at least 50% to as high as over 70% energy savings over existing code compliant buildings.  By heavily upgrading the building enclosure with super-insulation, high performance windows, lighting, advanced building systems and controls energy use as compared to typical buildings can be dramatically reduced.  Such efforts provide positive financial returns and savings over the long run.  Here in the U.S. existing buildings account for 40 percent(%) of the nation’s energy use and 38% if the carbon dioxide emissions. Thus we have a huge challenge before us.
        What Castle Square faced when beginning a renovation process a few years ago is what many face today around the country. Surging energy costs of almost 40% from a year ago clarifies the need to make real strides in energy efficiency to weather unpredictable ongoing operational costs not only for the next heating season but those over the next decade and beyond. Non-profits as well as colleges and universities face tough choices when facing potential renovations.  Deep Energy Retrofits offer a great strategy helping ensure ongoing viability, future affordability and predictability in energy costs.  
    But they require a commitment to integrated design process and deeper sustainability goals than typical projects which produce 30 to 40% energy savings as compared to base code case buildings.  Yesterday's "high performance buildings" getting to this level weren't necessarily short-sighted, they set the standard for their time but its time to turn up the volume on performance.

     Here's a brief overview of the project and some of its major elements. Then I delve a bit into how it was financed and became viable to help others reproduce the process and scale up the Deep Energy Retrofit movement around the country.
     It's also not just about ground breaking energy efficiency improvements but facilitating knitting together the social and economic fabric of the area.  The project includes an energizing street level facade and retail promenade to be built on Tremont Street along with construction of community center for residents.  The center expands offerings to residents in youth education and leadership, upping their technology education and repair, senior programs as well as a teen center among many improvements.   
Rendering of Street Level ReDevelopment
A Systems Approach to a Deep Energy Retrofit
         A key differences between Castle Square Apartments and standard energy efficiency renovations, is renovation to the building enclosure which at Castle Square will be located on the outside of the building. A new super insulated shell (which will visually transform the dated property), combined with a super insulated reflective roof, high efficiency windows and extensive air sealing, will increase the insulation value of the building by a factor of ten. The resulting building will require only a fraction of the energy to heat and cool as compared to its former condition. Additional energy savings will be made using small high efficiency cooling and heating equipment, LED and CFL lighting, Energy Star appliances and solar hot water. Residents will remain in their apartments during construction.     
    Check out the interactive web-site, for more information on how this was achieved.  It offers a look inside the project and allows others to tap into industry wide best practices.
Another novel aspect of the building retrofit was each individual unit air-sealed in a compartmentalized fashion between unit to unit, floor to floor reducing air leakage throughout.  Combining the low-air leakage and super-insulated building envelope allowed the downsizing of heating and cooling equipment helping to incrementally reduce first costs of systems which ordinarily are a significant portion of overall renovation costs. This lead to improved indoor air quality by using better more efficient systems and use of interior construction materials improving project quality.   
    While the deep energy retrofit takes place in the mid-rise, the rest of the project will also be significantly improved with an overall savings of 48% for the entire project as compared to the projected 72% for the tower.  As part of its focus on green building, the project will seek LEED certification.  This shows a commitment by building stakeholders to the fundamental and verifiable areas of sustainable site development, water use reduction, energy use reduction, materials and recycling and indoor environmental quality.  
    The non-profit Castle Square Tenants Organization along with a minority ownership stake by Winn Development own the project.  The design team included CWC Builders Inc., Elton + Hampton Architects, Petersen Engineering, Biome Studio and renowned consultants from Building Science Corporation as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building America Program among others.  Check out this page for more about the team.
    I spoke with Heather Clark, principal of Biome Studio, who helped lead the effort on the Deep Energy Retrofit aspect of the project.  She spoke to me about how the project was financed and key aspects of its process.  One of the key aspects facing projects like this is helping owners become comfortable with taking the risk on going ahead with Deep Energy Retrofits when there hasn’t been much of track record in the past.  Heather mentioned this was” a low-income affordable housing property so it’s 100% funded with grants, loans, Federal Low Income Housing tax credits, and some owner equity…(with) this financing arrangement quite typical of affordable housing development including renovations. 
    She went on to say. “About every twenty years, low income properties are eligible for funding for renovations.  A normal renovation was planned for this property and funding was in-hand.  The Deep Energy Retrofit became feasible because we received federal stimulus funding from MA Department of Energy Resources High Efficiency Grant Program.”  When I asked her about how this didn’t seem like such projects were really market driven yet but rather almost fully incentivized through these mechanisms she said. “However, for a property owner (especially an affordable property owner) to be the first to ever do something like this of this scale, additional funding really helps an owner feel more comfortable with the risk.”
So for me, Castle Square Apartments really demonstrates the possibilities for others like you readers of the Designcultivation.blogspot to mainstream projects like this.  So ultimately in another 10 to 15 years incentive funding needed now by project likes this can be ultimately used for other more needy projects in the future.  
    Here’s a list of funders for the project.  I say don’t be put off by its extensive nature.  Doing projects like this especially in the early adopter stage truly involves collaboration among all those seeking success.  This is often an effective way to push the marketplace towards mainstreaming advanced performance goals such as those involved with Deep Energy Retrofits. 
    Because the 50 year old Castle Square was already scheduled to be renovated it was a great candidate for upgrading the project to higher performance levels, ultimately leading to the mid-rise receiving the Deep Energy Retrofit.  With funding already in hand to do the conventional renovation “it was easy” as Heather said “and a lot less expensive to piggyback on already scheduled design work, than to start a Deep Energy Retrofit design from scratch.  Some of the additional costs will be absorbed by work already planned as part of the standard renovation.”  This included soft costs such as permitting, legal, architectural and engineering design and the hard costs of the incremental increases in building insulation, air-sealing, better windows and features relating to committing to doing a LEED.  Heather went on to say “Special sources of funds, including American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding from U.S. Housing and Urban Development and Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, and funding from the utilities, also made a huge difference in terms of increasing feasibility.  Furthermore, money that will be saved on energy bills, also allowed for more permanent debt to pay for additional work.”
    Because operational costs will be lower, the building, tenants and sponsoring subsidizing organizations assisting lower income tenants will have significantly less exposure to spikes in rising energy costs and subsequent more predictability in providing the services which count most for building users and their families.  Units will be more affordable to operate and maintain for the next generation to come and beyond than comparable buildings in the area renovated to lower standards.  Castle Square Apartments is living example paving the way for others to follow. This is a win today and an investment paying its way forward  down the road into tomorrow!  
    It will be very helpful after the project is completed to measure occupant energy use of the building, how well it functions as compared to the design case.  I hope the owners and design team conduct a detailed post-occupancy case study to understand all of this and capture lessons learned and best practices to help others follow their lead.  
    Readers, what do you think about the trend for Deep Energy Retrofits?  Do you "buy-it"?  Are there buildings and complexes in your cities and on your campuses needing this kind of attention?  Tell me what you think?

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