Northfield Net Zero Townhomes

The Community Action Center of Northfield (CAC) is a non-profit which provides immediate response to crisis through operating a food shelf, housing, and other programming in support of low-income families. The organization also prioritizes systems approaches to support long-term change that aligns with CAC’s mission of creating a caring, healthy, and just community. CAC recognizes that climate change will disproportionately affect the same low-income families CAC aims to support.

The CAC is currently designing a new seventeen-unit development to provide stable housing for low-income families and additional support to alleviate homelessness. Recognizing that achieving net zero energy will both lessen the impact on the environment as well as reduce operating costs of the units over time compared to traditional construction standards, the team engaged a group of researchers to see if this might be feasible - and affordable.

Precipitate collaborated with the Center for Sustainable Building Research to assess pathways to Net-Zero Energy for the Community Action Center of Northfield townhome development. The consultant project team compared three scenarios: achieving net-zero energy through PHIUS+ 2018 certification, standard construction with additional renewable energy, and a hybrid design with select improvements above code. The team worked collaboratively with owners, community members, design team, and contractor to model the anticipated energy consumption of the proposed designs in WUFI Passive and communicate best practices for design and construction with project stakeholders.

After investigating costs and benefits of building envelope and mechanical system upgrades, it appears likely the project team will choose a design that complies with PHIUS+ 2018 rather than a slightly-better-than-code building as originally anticipated. When energy performance is modeled early in the design process and the whole team is engaged, it is much easier to make the net zero energy equation work.

Project Team:

  • Client: Community Action Center of Northfield

  • Community Volunteers: Martha Larson (PM), Steve Schmitt (Builder), Alex Miller

  • Designer: Sweetgrass Design Studio

  • Consultant: Center for Sustainable Building Research

  • Certified Passive House Consultant: Precipitate, PLLC