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Energy positive homes unveiled in Roxbury

Posted by Patrick Rosso  August 27, 2013 06:30 PM

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(Patrick D. Rosso/

A view of the units from the rear.

Residents, city officials, and environmental advocates came together Tuesday in Roxbury to unveil Boston’s first energy positive housing development, which produces more energy than it uses.

The four brand new three-story, three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath environmentally sound townhouses, located on the corner of Highland and Marcella Street, were constructed by Urbanica, Inc., the developer behind a hotel proposed for Melnea Cass in Roxbury.

Using a variety of green features, from highly efficient insulation to solar panels, the approximately 2,000-square-foot living units actually produce more energy than they need, which can be sold back to the utility companies, allowing owners to make a little profit.

The $1.5-million project at 226-232 Highland St. is part of a larger initiative by the city to encourage the construction of energy efficient housing.

Energy positive units are also slated for 156 Highland St. in Roxbury and 63 Catherine St. in Jamaica Plain. All three sites were at one time controlled by the Department of Neighborhood Development and the developers were selected after a public bidding process.

“This is one project that represents a good practice,” said Kamran Zahedi, president of Urbanica. “There are buyers out there who are willing to pay for better living standards.”

Zahedi estimated that the units cost about 15- to 20-percent more than a regular unit in the area, but he said he hasn’t had a problem moving them, with three out of the four units already sold. The affordable housing unit sold for $215,000 and two of the three market rate units sold for $550,000.

He also estimated that the units will use close to 5,000 kilowatts of energy a year, but the homes will produce close to 10,000 kilowatts a year.

“I think when you build this way you can’t really build any other way,” said Zahedi. “It’s a great home and there is no question that we’re going to continue doing projects like this in the future.”

On Tuesday residents and officials wandered through the units, touring the bedrooms and curiously glancing at the solar panels mounted on the roof. Each unit is equipped with 37 photovoltaic solar panels, triple glazed windows, rain water harvesting equipment, and airtight walls, in addition to being LEED certified Platinum, the highest green certification attainable.

”This project demonstrates that we can build housing right in the city that is energy positive, has a great design, and really compliments the residential structures around it,” explained Sheila Dillon, director of the Department of Neighborhood Development.

Although the units may cost more than a traditional condo, Dillon said the completion of the project shows that energy positive housing is feasible and something that isn’t just limited to high-income areas or niche developments.

“I think the fact that three of the four structures are sold show that there is a real market for this type of housing,” said Dillon. “We think it’s a really good thing that developers can replicate.”

As residents and advocates wandered in and out of the units, Janice Griffith, who purchased one of the units, said she is excited to move in and become part of the neighborhood.

“I was astounded by all the energy efficient parts of it when I first toured the house,” said Griffith, who teaches environmental law and local government law at Suffolk University Law School. “To create a more sustainable environment we need to invest in more renewable energies and this is an opportunity to practice what I’ve been preaching.”

Overall the city, as part of its E+ Green Building Program, is trying to show that building energy efficient housing is not only possible, but financially attractive. In addition to the Highland Street units and those slated for Catherine Street, the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Department of Neighborhood Development are working with developers on a project in Mission Hill at 778-796 Parker St. and 77 Terrace St.

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(Patrick D. Rosso/

A view of the units from the front.

Email Patrick D. Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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