While many people associate green residential design and construction with big budgets, a team of engineers and architects demonstrated the successful use of sustainable design principles and construction techniques for affordable housing.
If you walk around the trendy tech-oriented waterfront neighborhoods of South Boston today, it’s hard to imagine this area was once filled with warehouses and a dreary, depressing, and sometimes violent, 1940s era public housing project called Old Colony. In 2010, the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) received Federal funds to redevelop the Old Colony project. Instead of following standard public housing development practices, BHA decided to redefine public housing design and construction by using sustainable design practices for 245 apartment units and a large 10,000 square foot learning center. How did design and construction firms working on this project achieve LEED Platinium certification for the apartments and LEED Gold for the learning center?
Reuse, Repurpose, and Recycle
Instead of just tearing down the old buildings and sending the debris to a landfill, the design and construction team identified parts of the original structure that they could reuse or repurpose. When choosing building materials, the architects and engineers opted for recycled drywall, flooring, concrete, and steel. Additionally, the project engineers developed and implemented a plan to save the original foundations and retrofit them to meet modern building standards and codes. These sustainable building practices not only reduced the environmental impact of the project, but they also saved more than $1 million.
Energy Efficiency and Affordability
Prior to redevelopment, people who lived in the Old Colony project spent as much a $4,000 per year for water and energy costs due to failing water pipes, poor insulation, and inefficient heating systems. To reduce this financial hardship for the low-income tenants, the design team made energy efficiency and conservation a priority. Examples of the strategies they used included:
- Application of high-density spray foam insulation
- Optimizing air sealing
- Providing only high-efficiency Energy Star certified appliances
- Installation of heat and/or energy recovery ventilators
To further reduce energy costs, site plans placed the mid rise building and townhouses so they received the maximum exposure to sunlight as possible to power the 140 kW photovoltaic panels to generate electricity for the apartment units. Click here to explore the other water and energy saving elements incorporated into the design.
While the original Old Colony project looked like the worst stereotype of public housing, the new Homes at Old Colony community uses the same exterior architectural style as the other homes in the neighborhood. In addition, the new roads through the complex are also suitable for bicycling and walking. Another way BHA builds a sense of community within the neighborhood is by hosting an annual Unity Day block party.
Proof of Success
In addition to achieving LEED certifications, the Homes at Old Colony architects received the 2013 John M. Clancy Award for Socially Responsible Housing for Phase One of the project, as well as 2012 Affordable Housing Finance Readers Choice Award for Urban Design. Today, this low income and affordable housing community is home approximately 440 tenants who have access to the opportunities offered South Boston’s innovation corridor.