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Alex Sherman

Alex Sherman

Clean Energy Fellow Department of Energy Resources

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zero net energy house

Preserving historic buildings is important work, but it has often met notable obstacles from an energy efficiency standpoint. Massachusetts happens to have a disproportionate number of historic buildings, which presents an issue for us at DOER: how can we make energy efficiency the standard statewide when so many buildings have to maintain their cultural and aesthetic history?

Architectural Heritage Foundation, a Boston-based non-profit that combines historic preservation and business economic development, partnered with two other regional organizations to propose a dynamic solution to this problem. They were awarded $625,000 from DOER’s federal stimulus-funded High Performance Buildings Grant program to implement Deep Energy Retrofits on three unique historic buildings, reducing their energy use by 50% and demonstrating a way for other historic buildings to cut their energy use.

I swung through Ipswich to see how the Architectural Heritage Foundation’s work on the Old House at Appleton Farms was going a few weeks ago, and it was an incredible thing to see. The building, which was rotting and literally falling over before work began, is now shaping up to be a beautiful new home for The Trustees of Reservation’s (TTOR) Center for Agriculture and the Environment. In addition to bringing the house up to code, the contractor is installing insulation on the outside, and blowing cellulose into the walls on the inside—doubling the insulating value of the walls and roof and eliminating any ‘bridges’ where the cold can get in. They’ve also repaired many windows and replaced irreparable ones with high efficiency models, balancing the need to be historically authentic and energy efficient. The house will be heated by a biomass boiler, and the hot water will come from solar heaters on the roof—eliminating most demand for fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, in Ashfield, the Trustees are busy on another old farmhouse on the Bullitt reservation. Bullitt, like Appleton, was also falling apart. But after getting similar treatment to Appleton Farms, the house is now so well insulated that when I visited (a chilly 42 degree November day), the entire house was comfortably warm—heated by the body heat of the four folks working on the house. There’s also an energy recovery ventilator in the basement to ensure proper air circulation without losing heat to the outside. The future occupants of the house, the Hilltown Land Trust and the Highland Communities Initiative, will rarely have to turn on the heat. When the Trustees install solar panels on a nearby barn next year, this house will use next to no electricity from the electric grid, and no fossil fuels – making it quite possibly the first zero net energy historic building in Massachusetts!

The Appleton and Bullitt projects will be some of the oldest energy efficient historical buildings in New England. In the end, however, the real value of these projects will be the example they set. We’ll keep you updated on the Appleton and Bullitt projects and a third project – the Lyman Estate in Waltham – when it begins. More information on the projects is available on TTOR’s website.

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As Deputy Director of DOER's Green Communities Division, Lisa helps lead a team devoted to working with Massachusetts cities and towns to realize environmental and cost benefits of municipal energy efficiency and renewable energy. Prior to joining DOER, Lisa worked in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs from 2007 to 2012, first as Press Secretary and then as Assistant Secretary for Communications and Public Affairs. Her previous communications and public relations experience includes both government and the private sector, where, as principal of upWrite Communications, she served clients such as The Trustees of Reservations, The Nature Conservancy, and Partners Health Care/North Shore Medical Center. She began her career as a journalist, covering Beacon Hill for the State House News Service, and later wrote for a variety of other publications including The Boston Globe, Teacher Magazine, Animals Magazine, and The Gulf of Maine Times. The author of two books, Lisa serves on the board of the Saugus River Watershed Council and resides with her family in Melrose.

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