VAEEC Guest Post: Study Shows Impact of EarthCraft Certified Affordable Housing
VAEEC Guest Post: Study Shows Impact of EarthCraft Certified Affordable Housing

Guest Post by: Stuart Nuckols, Viridiant

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The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE) 2015 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard[1] ranks Virginia 31st in the country for Energy Efficient Programs and Policies. While this may be discouraging to organizations and businesses invested in making the Commonwealth more energy efficient, there is positive energy efficiency policy news to share.

In the last 10 years, Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) and Viridiant, formerly EarthCraft Virginia, have made tremendous progress to successfully implement energy efficiency measures in low income, affordable housing.

Beginning in 2007, VHDA implemented an incentive in the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program that encouraged developers to pursue a recognized third-party standard, including Viridiant’s EarthCraft Multifamily program. This successful partnership has resulted in over 230 developments representing more than 16,000 certified apartments in Virginia.

With a substantial number of developments pursuing energy efficient construction, there was an interest in understanding the efficacy of VHDA’s policy decision to promote energy efficient construction in the Virginia rental housing stock. After initial funding from VHDA to benchmark and track unit-level performance of four EarthCraft Multifamily certified projects that had utilized Low Income Housing Tax Credits brought exciting findings, Viridiant partnered with Housing Virginia and the Virginia Center for Housing Research (VCHR) at Virginia Tech to publish a first-of-its-kind study that demonstrates the impact of energy efficient incentives in the construction of affordable rental housing in Virginia.

The 2015 report, The Impact of Energy Efficient Design and Construction on LIHTC Housing in Virginia[2], shows that the average EarthCraft Multifamily apartment reduces monthly energy consumption by 464 kilowatt hours saving $54/month on electricity, which amounts to annual savings of $648 and 5,568 kilowatt hours.

In addition to the energy and utility cost analysis, the research team deployed an anonymous survey to residents to gain insight into housing satisfaction, comfort, thermostat set points, appliance use, etc. In general, residents sampled in the study were more satisfied, more comfortable and paid lower utility costs compared to previous housing. An unanticipated finding of the study was the value observed in the independent, third party verification process that was instrumental in helping development teams achieve their energy and sustainability goals.

The study is one of the first in the nation to evaluate unit-level electricity consumption of affordable apartments built to exceed current efficiency standards. Of the 230 EarthCraft Certified Multifamily projects, 15 projects were selected to ensure representation of building type, geographic location, resident population and both new construction and renovation. Using actual utility performance, unit-level energy projection models, building information, and resident surveys, the team concluded that, on average, units performed 16.6% better than Viridiant had modeled, outperforming standard construction by 30%.

With savings reported in this study at almost $650 a year on average and over 16,000 EarthCraft Multifamily dwelling units in Virginia, the projects have the potential to save residents over $10 million in 2016 alone.

A continuation of the study is underway to assess construction costs of energy efficient construction and scheduled to be released in 2017.

Viridiant will continue to support the industry with the EarthCraft family of green building programs, but the organization is also looking to broaden its reach and mission. Recently rebranded as Viridiant, the organization plans to add more services and certifications in areas such as in-home energy monitoring, utility allowances, online energy assessment tools and unbiased consultation on specialties such as solar energy and energy-efficient home mortgages.

The new name, which is derived from a combination of “viridis,” the Latin word for “green,” and “-ant” of “servant” for their mission-driven stewardship, recognizes the group’s expansion into Washington, D.C. and Maryland, and its intention to do more to demonstrate how the latest building science can set a path for businesses and homeowners to create structures that are more affordable, livable and durable.

Viridiant offers win-win solutions for anyone who is interested in living in or building better buildings. “From net-zero to environmental sustainability and improved air quality, we are well versed in helping our partners exceed their goals to deliver high quality products and avoid construction pitfalls,” said KC Bleile, Viridiant’s Executive Director. “Having served nearly 20,000 families and 325 building partners, we’re excited to use what we’ve learned to expand our programs and reach to serve twice as many families over the next ten years.”

Over the coming months, Viridiant will begin to pilot, test and launch new programs and services to serve their broader goals.

[1] http://aceee.org/state-policy/scorecard

[2]Virginia Center for Housing Research (VCHR), Virginia Tech, 2015. The Impact of Energy Efficient Design and Construction on LIHTC Housing in Virginia, Contract Report submitted to Housing Virginia, Richmond, VA. Retrieved January 15, 2016, from http://www.vchr.vt.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Housing-VA-LIHTC-Study-Full-Report.pdf