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Modifying triple-decker houses can reduce greenhouse gas emissions

triple-decker houses
Posted at 1:52 PM, May 10, 2021

WORCESTER, MASS. — Old buildings across the country make up an alarming greenhouse gas emission rate. Now, one company made it its mission to renovate old houses to be energy efficient.

President Joe Biden's infrastructure proposal is likely to include money for energy efficiency. Buildings account for about 12% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Energy Information Administration. Biden has also laid out a plan to cut carbon emissions by as much as 52% by 2030.

One of the pieces to that solution is to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions among buildings.

“That presents a big problem when only about 18 percent of the square feet in the built environment is expected to be new construction between 2020 and 2050,” said Taylor Bearden, a contract developer for the company Civico. “So, what that means is that we have to deal with the housing we have today.”

Nationwide, 6 million apartments are in structures with two to four units, while they provide affordable living, it is not energy efficient.

In Massachusetts, there are living spaces known as triple-deckers, used in the 20th century as living spaces for blue-collar workers.

However, officials in Massachusetts say to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, as the state has set out to do, small residential buildings have to be retrofitted on a sector-wide scale.

“So, how do we turn all these buildings into net zero is a problem because they are already 120 years old today,” Bearden said. “Which means they’ll be 150 years old in 2050. The majority of households are heated with gas propane and oil, and those are obviously high carbon fuel sources if you’re trying to convert it to make a transition from electric heating and electric cooling, where you can source that resources that to renewables you have to wholesale change how buildings are heated and cooled.”

Living spaces that are 100 years old produce a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. To combat that, Bearden’s company retrofit the buildings with airtight insulation and updated HVAC systems. That’s where Bearden said they provide energy efficiency at an affordable cost.

“What we do is that we include heat and hot water in everything which allows us to justify heavy investing up front in the energy efficiency of the building,” Bearden said. “Which means our tenants have a single bill. And that bill is for rent and the goal being we are incentivized, and our investors are incentivized to invest in the most efficient possible and most resilient and stable building.”

To reach carbon neutrality by 2050, about 100,000 homes per year would have to be retrofitted like the triple-deckers in Massachusetts. Achieving this across the country will be hard, but Bearden hopes it will take off.

“We could stabilize a neighborhood and provide sort of a model for others to look at in other cities,” Bearden said. “This could show them that if you invest up front for energy efficient you can create a better environment for your tenets but also hit some of those climate goals and produce a road map for others to do it as well.”