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BRA Homes Will Generate More Energy Than They Use

And they could be the leading edge of a new trend in Boston development.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority recently named developers for three properties in Boston that, when completed, will be so energy efficient that they will actually create more energy than they use.

In a City Hall conference room this week, John Dalzell, a senior architect with the authority’s Urban Design Department, pointed at a poster board showing designs for one of the sites—a four-unit development in Roxbury.

“These four units will generate enough energy to power another home,” he said.

The board is one of six labeled with the names of three firms who won a city design contest for three parcels—one in Jamaica Plain and two in Roxbury—for a total of 10 homes that combine an extreme level of energy efficiency with solar panels. Dalzell and the city call the result “energy positive” or “E+” homes.

The homes’ walls, when completed, will be 12-14 inches thick and filled with insulation, creating what Dalzell called a “tight envelope” and some interesting challenges.

With a home so well sealed, he said, the developers had a hard time finding heating and cooling systems that were small enough not to be wasteful.

On a winter morning, he said, “[Just] making some tea and cooking some pancakes is going to make the place pretty darn toasty.”

The homes will be about 1,500 square feet with three bedrooms each, Dalzell said, and two of the eight in Roxbury will be reserved as affordable housing for people earning 80 percent or less of the area’s median income.

Now that the city has officially named its developers, it can sell the parcels to each of the firms—Urbanica, GFC Development and Transformations—who can then get to work.

This process, Dalzell said, will likely be the leading edge of a new trend in the city’s construction environment.

The city is already planning two larger developments (with about 40 homes each) that aim to exceed the goals set by the current three projects, said John Feuerbach with the Department of Neighborhood Development.

Those projects, Feuerbach said, will seek to employ "a wider range of sustainability measures." He expects the city to seek proposals for the sites—one in Highland Park and one in Mission Hill—in the fall, after the city completes a set of community hearings.

Dalzell said the city has so far been pleased by its energy positive endeavors, and Boston “will probably never offer city land again where there’s not a requirement for energy positive [development].”

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