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Developer proposes residential building in Roxbury that would generate more electricity than it consumes

Architect's rendering of Highland Street proposal

Shining bright at night. Renderings by Studio G Architects.

A Jamaica Plain developer has filed plans with the BPDA for a four-story, 23-unit co-operative building on Highland Street that not only would pump electricity back into the grid, it would have a higher percentage of affordable units than called for by city regulations.

The city selected Jon Rudzinski last year to develop seven vacant lots on Highland Street between Marcella and Centre streets. Unlike occupants of condos, who own their own property, residents of the building would essentially get shares of a concern that owns the entire building.

Rudzinski has proposed a building in which 15 units would be marketed as affordable - with three limited to people making no more than 30% of the Boston area median income, seven for people making no more than 60% of the area median income and five for people making up to the amount of the area median income. The remaining eight units would sold at market rates.

The building would have 19 parking spaces in a garage and an 850-square-foot space for community art space.

The building's roof would be covered with solar panels, coupled to units with triple-glazed windows and LED lighting aimed at minimizing energy use - along with a high-efficiency HVAC system and an "air-tight envelope" that would mean the building should generate more electricity than it consumes. The application says it would be one of the largest such "passive house" residential building in the city and could serve as a model for further development of buildings aimed at reducing electricity consumption.

In addition to the BPDA, the zoning board will also have to approve the project before an estimated 15 months and $7 million worth of construction can begin.

Highland Street small-project review application (3.8M PDF).

Highland Street proposal
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Comments

Why do liberals keep falling for this stuff?! It isn't true, it can't be done. Maybe for a moment in the middle of a weekday in July, but never in the middle of a February night. Do Liberals like being lied to? What is it?

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They should just put in a giant coal furnace. That'll own the libs but good.

And your background in photovoltaic systems and LEED development is?

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What's your background in photo voltaic systems and LEED development Adam to prove that the troll isn't correct that this project is a greenwash con-job by a developer trying to get variances and a permit for a project which won't live up to the hype?

The city has a bad track record of approving projects and letting developers weasel out of the original details and affordability agreements after construction is delayed for a bit. Projects get approved through with fanfare and then quietly get slowly walked back into mediocrity all over the city. How many wonderful green affordable developments have been reported here on UHub vs. how many have been built as originally advertised? Seems to me we read about wonderful things more often than those wonderful things get built. =(

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But neither am I making a political issue out of it.

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"The building's roof would be covered with solar panels, coupled to units with triple-glazed windows and LED lighting aimed at minimizing energy use - along with a high-efficiency HVAC system and an "air-tight envelope" that would mean the building should generate more electricity than it consumes. "

LOL. Ain't gonna happen. First, when they started insulating and weatherproofing buildings in the late seventies, first thing they found out was because of outgassing from the building products in the building, like formica, glued up cabinets and, well, carpeting, built up dangerous amounts of interesting chemicals like formaldehyde. So, sealing a building was bad. But, I'll assume they cleaned up their act and are using really cool building materials like, um, they don't know. Anyway, much electricity was generated this year with rain and all.

I'd rather live in a barn. I'll get used to the cooler temps.

Solar in New England is OK, but not great. Build a good house and it will work. Promise magic shit, it's just bullshit. Hell, build a urethane yurt, it'll be energy efficient, but I guarantee you won't live in it for long.

Google "air exchanger" if you really want an answer to the issue of air quality in tightly sealed buildings. Building science and solar technology have come a long way since the 1970s.

Project looks great. Build it!

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...is what you mean. And away we go...
https://elrondburrell.com/blog/passivhaus-airtight-construction/
FTA: "Airtight construction doesn’t need to be confusing to understand. It really is about preventing unwanted draughts through the building envelope. It’s still entirely fine to open windows and doors! And it’s also entirely fine to use ‘breathable’ materials to form the air barrier – ‘breathable construction’ can and should also be draught-free."
Open windows...
The 'air exchanger' is just a part of the air tight envelope. They use electricity. Quite a bit, actually. So, if he's honest and says, 'it will help' OK, but when they claim a net surfeit of electricity, I'll question it. There's just not enough electricity to run an advanced HVAC that includes 24/7/365 air movement and conditioning, wether it be heating or cooling.
Roof is covered with solar cells. Fine. It's a flat roof, not an ideal angle for solar. Basic trig...it's maybe 2/3 of the correct angle. Oh, flat roof...will it work covered with snow? Or will it have heaters in it to melt the snow? I've seen plenty of solar collectors covered with snow.
Speaking of heaters, there's no actual mention in the write up about what the primary heating fuel is. I'll assume electricity. I just scanned the proposal quickly, probably electricity.
OK, great, looks nice on paper. I'm just not buying it even though a bunch of Really Smart Engineers, combined with a bunch of Really Good Technical Writers says it's so. But hey, not my money.
I have a neighbor that has solar cells on his roof. They face north. If you don't see the problem with that...I once had a solar collector seller tell me that it doesn't matter, they, 'suck in the light, the angle's not too important'...
Will it survive the winter of 2015? If not, then it can't work in New England. Get back to me in four years with the zero electric bill...
Really Smart aeronautical engineers and computer programmers designed an airplane. The Boeing 737 Max is parked all over the world.

They're not claiming that it's going to be producing the same amount of energy every day of the year — there are plenty of places that are already generating more than they're consuming in MA via solar. Obviously it's not the same as Arizona, but it is actually a net gain.

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there are plenty of places that are already generating more than they're consuming in MA via solar

Including my house. Idiots who feel they have to yell that solar doesn't generate at night are just demonstrating their ignorance. They are part of the problem, and object to every attempt at a solution to the climate crisis.

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Why are conservatives so reflexively against anything that saves energy, resources, or otherwise might help leave a better place for our children to live? You aren't being forced to live here or any home that uses dramatically less energy.
Why get so furious?

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Isn’t it obvious? They are against it because liberals are for it. It’s as simple as that.

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Because what you're doing is actually conserving, something conservatives just can't get behind.

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Somewhere back in 2011 or so, the city decided to use its vacant lots in Highland Park and a couple of other spots elsewhere in town to experiment with passive house designs. They have been putting these parcels up for development with the requirement that they be designed like this. And whaddaya know, it's working!

The 4 unit complex right up the street at the corner of Marcella and Highland, and another 4 unit complex at the top of Highland Street were both built under this program. Placetailor had made a national name for themselves building passive homes in and around Fort Hill, mostly on private land. I think they're up to about 15 private site units within a half mile or so of this. And another neighborhood landowner just out up 3 more units on his family land.

So we're up to something like 25 or so scattered site units of passive housing within a 5 minute walk of this site, with several experienced local developers. The concept is proven. I've been inside several of the units and have a friend who bought one of the first ones years back. He reports that it's working as planned.

The city is leading the nation by requiring this project, and 2 more that should be announced soon as part of the larger overall disposition process for a bunch of city owned land on the bottom of the hill, to be built to these passive house standards. They're pushing developers and architects to up their game. And it's working.

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My family works in solar. In Mass. plenty of solar to go net zero with net metering back into the grid. More than needed goes on the grid when it’s sunny and then it goes negative when it’s not. Balances out over the year. Welcome to the future. Adapt.

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Looks great, I love the affordable housing and parking ratios in this building. Rooting for this development to be successful.

To the poster above me, who saw their trigger words and immediately dropped everything in the rush to get FIRST POST: This is precisely the type of smart mid sized development the city is currently starved for. Fossil fuels are today's horse and buggy. You don't have to move forward but don't expect everybody else to hang back with you.

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Expect to see a lot more of this anon stuff as we get closer to the 2020 election.

As to the development, as much as I love the typical Dormer roofs and bowed windows of olden days I too agree the time has come to move on.

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This building sounds better on energy consumption than most. But unless it's an all-electric heating system (air source or ground source heat pumps), then I'm simply not impressed. I might have been 10 years ago, but these days, if you want to flash your green creds, you've got to not install natural gas. Period.

We can't get to 80 percent carbon emissions reductions by 2050 if we're using natural gas to heat. That's the math. Building a new building with natural gas heating ignores that reality.

n/t

There is a big Passive House apartment building operating in South Boston, yes, Massachusetts. It is feasible. Improvements are being made all of the time--you know--progress! I am part of a group which is working on building an energy efficient building north of Boston and some of our members visited Distillery North and met with the owner and they were really impressed.

http://www.distillerynorth.com/passive-house-south-boston

Its OK if its a scam and just a PR thing

However, should it actually produce on an annual basis more electricity than it consumes at an economical price for construction -- it would set a very bad precedent

The problem is that on the scale of a cell phone or a Big Screen TV over even a tiny house with a dorm-sized refrigerator -- we can cover the roof with enough solar cells and fill up the basement with batteries -- BUT this does not scale well

Even a typical 2 story single family home with central air-conditioning is a challenge to balance solar cells and batteries because the peak in solar energy is local noon and the peak in solar heat gain is later and the peak in electricity demand is still later -- i.e. when the family is all home a sitting down to dinner

You just need to find an alternative source of electricity when the sun is not shining at all, not shining enough through the clouds, or shining at the wrong angle [time of day or time of year] to produce enough energy to balance your demand.

Besides the lifetime and wiring issues with respect to piles of batteries -- there is one more dirty little secret of nature -- every-time you charge or discharge a battery you are converting some of the electrical energy to heat -- heat which in the summer you need to dissipate to the outside

We just don't at this time have a viable solution for storage at scale of two -- three deckers let alone hundreds of units.and even less so at the scale of neighborhoods and cities

And to top it all off -- we've just shut down a reliable base load generator at Pilgrim Station

So moral of the story -- absent efficient, reliable, grid-scale storage -- more solar panels means more Natural Gas Fired generation to insure that you have the electricity when you most need it such as a February morning after the passage of a cold front when everyone is getting ready to go out.

have a finite life and will eventually need to be replaced. And the processes to harvest and process the materials used in those batteries result in a lot of nasty byproducts that actually harm the environment.