Make the Affordable Housing Development on Seminary St. Ext. in Middlebury Fossil Fuel Free

June 2022
Submitted by  the Climate Economy Action Center of Addison County.

The Seminary Street project presents an important opportunity to address affordable housing needs in Middlebury and Addison County in ways that also address climate change by creating an affordable fossil-fuel free housing development.  We welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with the developer to pursue this goal.  Here’s why:

  • There are urgent housing needs for low and moderate income families, both locally and statewide, and green solutions are the affordable way to do so. 
  • The climate crisis demands that we transition away from burning fossil fuels as soon as possible.
  • Experience demonstrates that net-zero, high-efficiency, and low/no carbon designs are not only possible, but affordable. They are also healthier, safer, and more comfortable. Importantly, such buildings have lower operating costs over time, lowering the total cost of ownership while also contributing to efforts to combat climate change. 

Reaching our state’s and our country’s ambitious goals for reducing or eliminating greenhouse gas emissions requires that we install no new fossil-fuel burning equipment.  This means no fossil-fuel heating devices, no fossil-fuel hot water heaters, and no natural gas stoves.  There are a growing number of developments in Vermont and nationwide that demonstrate this can be done, and prove that this approach does not result in a significantly higher construction cost than a conventional approach, and  actually results in a lower total cost of ownership over the life of the building, a particularly important consideration for an affordable housing project.

We have some specific suggestions. When we consider the opportunity to build a new affordable housing complex from scratch today, here are some of the suggestions that we hope are seriously considered. 

  • Design and build according to Passive House, IgCC/ASHRAE 189.1 (International Green Construction Code and The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning), LEED v4.1 or similar stretch green building codes or green building rating systems.
  • Design HVAC systems as electric-only active systems that use no fossil fuels. Cold-climate heat pump technology is now proven, well-understood, and steadily improving. Backup heating can be provided by battery storage and/ or electric resistance heat options. We also encourage the consideration of district heating and geo-thermal options as part of heat pump systems for the development. 
  • Discourage wood burning.  
  • Install solar or other renewable energy technology, so that the complex produces at least as much energy as it consumes.
  • Even more specifically, we suggest that the complex incorporate features such as:
    • Daylighting design with low U-factor (high R-value) insulated glass in windows and door frames, and shading systems.
    • Super-insulated and air-sealed building envelope with filtered tempered fresh-air supply and operable windows designed to use stack-effect cooling.
    • Mudroom entry that can be used as an airlock during very hot or very cold weather. 
    • High efficiency water, waste, and lighting systems
    • On-site solar panels either attached to individual homes or free standing
    • Whole-house battery systems used to store the solar, wind, small hydro, or geothermal site generated renewable electricity.
    • Site design to encourage walking, biking, and other alternative transportation options
    • EV Charging stations, including multiple Level-2 and at least one Level-3 fast charging stations.  
    • Create a bus stop with enclosed shelter (for inclement weather)

If we are committed as a community to environmental justice, building green affordable housing along the lines we have suggested above is one concrete way that we can demonstrate our commitment to this principle. 

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