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Bigger House or Smaller Footprint?

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Nevelyn Black's picture
Writer, Independent

Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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  • Mar 3, 2022

In existing structures, energy efficiency and weatherization are among the most effective means of ensuring long-term energy affordability for families struggling to pay utility bills. For new structures a new approach is taking off.  Net-zero energy homes are growing in popularity.  To reach decarbonization goals in the building sector by 2050, a big reduction in residential energy use will be required.  Matthew Black, project coordinator for the Advancing Net Zero program at the World Green Building Council said, “Energy efficiency is a really important part of this… If we don’t build a home to be efficient, then it’s still going to be consuming an awful lot of energy, and we’re going to have to build more and more capacity to meet that demand.” The additional costs involved may slow down demand.  Josh Kane, VP of sustainability consultant firm, Two Trails, said it can add 10-20 percent to the building costs.  He believes people want to leave a smaller footprint “but in reality…they’re not willing to pay additional for that.  They would rather have a little bigger house or a little bit smaller mortgage payment.”

However, new research in Maine, found that millennials are moving to smaller, more efficient homes.  “They’re very cost-conscious,” Joel Alexander, a real estate agent for Better Homes and Gardens in Augusta, said. “They want smaller, more energy-efficient homes.”  The real estate group found that millennials tend to be more environmentally conscious and unlike their parents, they are more willing to sacrifice space for the good of our environment.  The average size for a millennial home is 1,700 square feet. “As inflation rises, they are thinking about the heating and electric bills,” Gina Letourneau, a Better Homes and Gardens real estate agent in Auburn, said.

In Massachusetts, their goal is to make energy-efficient homes more affordable.  “Too often with low-income families they really struggle to pay high energy bills,” said Mickey Northcutt, chief executive of North Shore Community Development Corp. “We really try to moderate that cost.” With  the help of a clean energy grant, the North Shore Community Development Corp. will support the construction of a 30-unit affordable housing development in Gloucester. The state’s performance standard, Passive House, calls for a drastic reduction of energy consumption as compared to a similar, conventionally designed structure.  Since the early 2000’s, single-family homes built to the passive house standard have been popping up in the area, Aaron Gunderson, executive director of Passive House Massachusetts said.   Funding may not be their only challenge.  “Still in 2022 there is a lot of stigma around affordable housing,” Northcutt added. “We feel that if people can live in an attractively designed building that is also the greenest building in Gloucester, there’s a bit of pride in that.”

Can the building sector reach decarbonization goals through an energy-efficient housing market?  Would attractively designed and energy-efficient homes overturn the negative perception of affordable housing?


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