Passive Building Incentives Spur New Housing in Massachusetts

Two grant programs aimed at supporting highly efficient, affordable housing developments are yielding promising results.

2 minute read

March 9, 2022, 10:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

The Prescott Passive House in Kansas City, Kansas

The Prescott Passive House, part of the revitalization of downtown Kansas City, was designed to meet Passive House and LEED standards. | Studio804 / The Prescott Passive House in Kansas City, Kansas

Two Massachusetts state programs are successfully incentivizing the production of highly efficient affordable housing using passive building. According to an article by Sarah Shemkus, "Early numbers indicate that this building approach costs, on average, less than 3% more than conventional construction and can slash energy use roughly in half."

The programs reward developers who engage in passive house building, defined in the article as "a performance standard that calls for a drastic reduction of energy consumption as compared to a similar, conventionally designed structure. Buildings that meet the standard have airtight envelopes, insulating windows, and continually insulated exterior walls."

Two grant programs launched in 2018 and 2019 by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and Mass Save, the organization that administers the utilities’ legally mandated energy efficiency programs have let developers experiment with passive building. "The Passive House Design Challenge awarded eight affordable housing developments $4,000 per unit — for a total of $1.73 million — for new construction built to the passive house standard." Mass Save provides grants for feasibility studies and pre-construction energy modeling. "These incentives have been vital in sparking the growth of high-performance multifamily building, said Dave Traggorth, principal at real estate advisory firm Traggorth Companies, which is currently developing two passive house projects with a total of 57 units."

More efficient design also means lower energy and maintenance costs down the line. "The affordable housing sector has taken a particular interest in passive house building. The increased attention to airflow and air quality, along with better temperature control, make these homes healthier places to live, an advantage for populations that generally face more medical issues (and costs)." Building energy-efficient affordable housing, with its long-term benefits, can benefit both residents and builders.

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