Baker-Polito Administration Announces Awardees of Triple Decker Energy Efficiency Challenge

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Erika McCarthy

MassCEC-Sponsored Competition Offered Prizes for Cost-Effective Energy Retrofit Approaches

Boston - The Baker-Polito Administration today announced $150,000 in awards to the winning submissions of a Triple Decker Design Challenge, which invited applicants to explore cost-effective, all-electric energy retrofit approaches to existing triple decker homes, a unique and iconic three-family housing type in Massachusetts and New England. The challenge, sponsored by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and supported by a generous grant from the Barr Foundation, awarded prizes to various designers, developers, and students in the Commonwealth for the strongest designs that balance upfront cost, long term operational savings and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions reduction. Awarded submissions offer the greatest potential to be replicated and scaled across tens of thousands of triple decker homes throughout the state and help the Commonwealth meet its commitment of Net Zero emissions by 2050.

“Triple decker homes are an iconic part of New England’s landscape, and offer a great opportunity to improve the energy efficiency in our homes and in our communities,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “These proposals provide innovative solutions that will improve the efficiency of these notoriously inefficient homes in a way that is cost-effective and help the Commonwealth make important progress in our effort to decarbonize our buildings and meet our ambitious climate goals.”

“Identifying affordable ways to improve the efficiency of our three-family homes will lower heating bills for our residents, improve our efficiency statewide, and maintain the historic features that make triple decker buildings a distinctive staple in many of our communities,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “We look forward to helping developers and our building professionals put these strategies into action in cities and towns across the Commonwealth, which will deliver significant benefits to Massachusetts families.”

Applicants were given five months to design proposals with the option of two design tracks. The first, the Triple Decker Retrofit Design, focused on retrofitting a typical triple decker building using the existing building square footage. The second, the 3+ Retrofit Design, looked at adding additional space to the existing triple decker, along with a deep energy retrofit. The 13 qualified proposals submitted clearly demonstrated that efficiency savings over 50% were easily and affordably achievable. The least aggressive proposal achieved a 61% reduction in energy use while the most aggressive proposals achieved energy savings of at least 80%, including two proposals that achieved net zero energy. MassCEC announced the challenge in July 2020, and submissions were due November 2020.

Triple decker homes are one of the most dominant, widely recognized, and iconic residential building types in Massachusetts. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tens of thousands of triple decker homes were built across New England. Most of these buildings are extremely energy inefficient, with old windows and little insulation. They also have old heating systems and no air conditioning systems. As a result, these buildings tend to be uncomfortably drafty and expensive to heat and cool. Triple decker homes typically use three-to-five times more energy than newly constructed buildings and are at least seven times draftier. Because most triple decker homes have a similar layout, creative retrofit approaches are more easily scale-able and replicable.

“Massachusetts’ buildings sector represents the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after transportation, and finding affordable, effective approaches to decarbonizing our buildings is critical to our ability to meet our climate goals,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “Improving the efficiency of our three-family homes will help residents save money, lead to better air quality, create jobs, and put us on a path to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050.”

“Approximately 80% of Massachusetts’ built environment in 2050 will consist of buildings that exist today,” said MassCEC CEO Stephen Pike. “Solutions like those outlined in the Triple Decker Design Challenge will be an important step to electrifying and decarbonizing Massachusetts’ building stock.”

The winning submissions were:

  • Triple Decker Retrofit Design: TDC Retrofit Toolkit, Zephyr Architects - $25,000 - This design provides a toolkit for homeowners/contractors to decide the best ways to retrofit their building.
  • 3+ Retrofit Design: The Back Stack, MERGE Architects - $25,000 - This design adds an additional 3-story unit and additional outdoor decks for existing tenants at the rear of the building.
  • Bring Your Own Building: Making Cents of Carbon, DiMella Shaffer & RW Sullivan as consultant - $25,000 - This design focuses on improving the envelope using Passive House concepts while prioritizing materials that are available on the market today.
  • People’s Choice and Student Prize: ZERO (Zero Emissions Retrofit Optimization), Gunnison Company - $15,000 - This student design focuses on making a net zero renovation as compelling as possible to an owner by aligning the project incentives with their tenants and providing the most cost efficient-solution.

The Runner-Up submissions were:

  • Boston HiP, ZH Architects - $15,000 - This design adds two additional prefabricated modular townhouses that can be customized in unit size and count to the side yard of the existing triple decker.
  • Plug-In +, Utile Inc. - $15,000 - This design focus on resiliency, locally available labor and materials, and minimal resident disruption while also adding a customized “plug-in” shed holding the ventilation, heating and cooling, and hot water equipment.
  • Fort Hill Triple Decker, West Faulkner and Placetailor - $15,000 - This design adds an additional unit to the fourth floor of the existing triple decker, while also renovating the triple decker to Zero Energy and pays for itself with the added leasable space and future energy savings.
  • Outside-In Inside-Out, Leupold Brown Goldbach Architects & Scott Payette Architects - $15,000 - This design adds customizable south facing decks that can be enclosed to increase square footage, while also tightening the building envelope.

The Honorable Mentions were:

  • Lowest Embodied Carbon: Wood Fiber Modular Encapsulation, OPAL + TIMBER HP: This design employs a carbon-sequestering, modular systems of building shell improvements to deliver net-zero energy performance with a negative carbon footprint.
  • Most Innovative Design: (re)Facing the Future: Deep Energy Retrofits for the Next Century, University of Massachusetts at Amherst. This design utilizes innovative thermoelectric façade systems for heating and cooling.

See all submissions on MassCEC's website

Over the next three months, MassCEC will work on developing a white paper summarizing lessons learned from the program that can be used by designers and developers in future efficiency projects. There are an estimated 8,900 triple decker homes in Boston, 4,000 in Fall River, 4,000 in Worcester, and many others in Lowell, Lawrence, and other communities. Triple deckers are typically three story, wood framed structures consisting of three apartments with generally identical floor plans and a mix of flat and gable roofs.

“The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center's Triple Decker Design Challenge presents opportunities for deep energy retrofits to Massachusetts’s most iconic building typology,” said Boston Society for Architecture President Gregory O. Minott. “While new, large buildings are often the focus of sustainable design, this competition showcases the crucial role that retrofitting existing smaller scale housing plays in helping the Commonwealth achieve carbon neutrality. The BSA was proud to host this showcase with MassCEC, as it highlights issues of affordable housing and net zero design—two core issues for our community and the industry.”

In December 2020, building on its ambitious commitment to achieve Net Zero by 2050, the Baker-Polito Administration released two reports - the Massachusetts 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap Report and an interim 2030 Clean Energy and Climate Plan (CECP) – that detail policies and strategies to equitably and cost-effectively reduce emissions and combat climate change, including in the buildings sector. Based on its analysis of a range of potential pathways, the Roadmap finds that the most cost-effective, low-risk pathways to Net Zero share include widespread electrification of transportation and building heat, as well as greater building efficiency. The buildings sector represents approximately 35% of GHG emissions in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) is a publicly funded agency dedicated to accelerating the success of clean energy technologies, companies and projects in the Commonwealth—while creating high-quality jobs and long-term economic growth for the people of Massachusetts. Since it began operating in 2009, MassCEC has helped clean energy companies grow, catalyzed emerging clean energy sectors, and invested in residential and commercial renewable energy installations, creating a robust marketplace for innovative clean technology companies and service providers.