US launches efforts to reduce residential CO2 emissions

CLIMATE WIRE | In 2010, the Dutch government launched a program to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions from one of the largest and most problematic sources in the world: homes.

He invested $40 million and called it “Energiesprong”, or “Energy Jump” in English. The idea was to convert old row houses with drafts into well-insulated homes, powered by solar and electric heat pumps, which reduced their CO2 emissions to near zero.

The first phase ended with the renovation of around 6,000 homes in the Netherlands, but it has since spread to northern Europe, where – retranslated by the “Mustb0” program – it has extended to apartment buildings.

Multiple innovations have led to cheaper ways to retrofit homes using standardized methods and mass-produced materials. There are also financing programs that use potential energy savings to help reduce costs.

So it was perhaps inevitable that in March the Biden administration would announce a $32 million project to start a US version. It aims to redevelop homes and apartments, starting with 30 projects in six states.

“We’re in an all-out sprint to beat the climate crisis, and that race is happening right in our nation’s building industry,” said Jennifer Granholm, secretary of the Department of Energy. She noted that the US construction industry was ripe for renovation. It uses 40% of the country’s energy and 75% of its electricity.

But it may take some time before the sprint starts. American homeowners, the real estate industry, and builders of apartments and homes don’t seem ready to put on their running shoes just yet.

Last month, the National Association of Realtors released the results of a survey of a random sample of 2,652 of its members. The headline announced that homebuyers had a “renewed interest” in homes “with green features.” But the fine print revealed that only 19% of real estate agents thought the prospect of climate change was important for home sales.

Seventy-six percent of them doubted that a more energy-efficient home would increase the selling price of a home.

Experts from environmental groups, cities and others working on the U.S. program predict there will be a “learning curve” to get the climate change message home, as Americans are much more focused on the energy efficiency of their cars. Some companies in the U.S. construction industry have expressed interest because they fear European and Chinese competitors will export prefabricated materials needed for rapid home renovations if U.S. companies don’t start making them.

One of the projects in the works to generate more interest in energy-efficient homes are the Eva White Apartments, two adjoining seven-story apartment buildings in Boston.

Like many apartment buildings built in 1967, their homes have single-glazed windows and poorly insulated walls. They are full of drafts in the winter and ill-prepared for the hotter summers that climate change will bring because the buildings lack central air conditioning.

They are owned by the Boston Housing Authority, and the elderly, low-income tenants who live there are sheltered from rising energy bills.

But Winn Development LLC, a Boston-based company that owns apartment buildings in 10 states, plans to buy the Eva White complex this year.

Why? Because cities like Boston, New York, Washington, and Philadelphia have adopted what are called carbon mandates. They require landlords to manage and reduce CO2 emissions from apartment buildings. Winn is working with the DOE and a coalition of cities and nonprofit groups to find more cost-effective ways to retrofit buildings to reduce their carbon emissions and energy costs.

“No costs are going down in the construction industry,” notes Christina McPike, Winn’s director of energy and sustainability. “It’s the contrary.” But if the coalition can use government grants to develop faster, less labor-intensive ways to retrofit, the resulting energy savings could help homeowners pay their mortgages.

This winter, construction will begin at the Eva White complex, and the most innovative aspect will be a 6-inch-thick facade of precast panels to be wrapped around the buildings exterior.

The panels are made primarily of insulation and a stucco-like waterproof coating. The new windows will fit over the older windows and the pipes for a new central air conditioning and ventilation system will be hidden behind the panels.

“It’s like putting a windbreaker and a sweater on a building,” said Lucas Toffoli, project manager for RMI, formerly Rocky Mountain Institute, an environmental group that works with the coalition to reduce emissions from buildings. .

The Boston project will be one of the first to be completed in the United States. “Tenants can stay in their apartments, the bulk of the work can be done from outside, Toffoli explained. “We’ll see how much we can streamline this through early drafts.”

Perhaps the most ambitious renovation project in the United States has just begun in Chicago, where the city has selected 10 projects, mostly small single-family brick houses built 80 to 100 years ago, before the appearance building codes.

The plan, like the Boston project, is to use heat pumps and better insulation to cut energy costs and add air conditioning, which most single-family homes in the city lack but will need in the future. .

The idea is to reduce energy bills by more than 50% and then get homeowners and real estate agents to inspect the value of the results, including lower energy bills and more comfortable living.

“We want people to be aware of the changes they could make that would be super important,” said Lindy Wordlaw, associate director of Elevate Energy, a nonprofit working on the project with the city and Commonwealth Edison. Co., Chicago’s major utility. .

Chicago has set aside $180 million to support this and other climate change projects. If the idea of ​​energy-efficient homes catches on, it could help the city reach its goal of reducing emissions in the city by 62% by 2040.

There are 400,000 single-family homes and small multi-family residences in the city. If they were all refurbished, the energy savings alone could reach $49 billion by 2050, according to a DOE estimate.

The Dutch government bet on “Energiesprong” in 2010 with a few hundred households. She has since found ways to use some of their future energy savings to help fund energy retrofits. It now has six housing corporations working on a backlog of 110,000 homes.

It’s unclear exactly where Chicago goes from here, but the city, once celebrated by poet Carl Sandburg as the “city of big shoulders,” sees big challenges ahead. But he also has big dreams.

“It’s like the greatest community organizing project of all time,” Wordlaw said. “It can’t just be about sustainability and climate issues. We need to involve everyone. »

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential information for energy and environmental professionals.

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