Boston's new flood protection plan, mainstream readiness and obstacles to net-zero, zoning changes at the state-level for more affordable housing
Boston’s New Flood Protection Plan Centers on New Parks
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh recently unveiled a flood protection plan that keys on new parks and upgrades of existing ones. City leaders were alarmed when storms last winter put parts of the downtown area and the Seaport district underwater for a more than a day. Recent sea level rise forecasts have added urgency to the issue.
The plan would add 67 acres of public open space in areas that could act as flood buffers, and some existing parks would be renovated to boost their elevation. These actions would protect some residential neighborhoods. Some low-lying streets would be raised, and sea walls would be added along privately owned sections of the Harborwalk, a coastal pedestrian path.
Business leaders expressed support for the plan, but some experts questioned how the money would be raised for the ambitious proposal. Boston already urges developers to plan for sea level rise in new waterfront buildings, but does not mandate that they do so. In the future, those provisions might become requirements, and landowners might have to help pay for the extensive work proposed by the mayor.
Several Barriers Holding Back Widespread Construction of Zero Energy Buildings
Zero energy buildings are on the rise in some areas, but barriers that are retarding their spread nationwide remain. That’s the conclusion of a new report, “Pathways to Zero Energy Buildings through Building Codes,” by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. One barrier is a “solar-only” mindset where an owner adds solar to a building but gives short shrift to energy efficiency.
Debate over whether community renewable energy options should be favored over on-site renewable generation in net zero buildings is another barrier. The report says that zero energy can be accomplished with both power-generation strategies. Buildings can be made zero-energy ready, with generation added later.
Disinterest in energy-efficient or zero energy buildings still exists in many regions. Code improvements and voluntary programs could help overcome that barrier. Code updates could focus on specific building equipment, such as improving management of plug-load energy use, increasing HVAC efficiency, or including solar-ready roofing and connections. They could also be used to improve performance path scores or create an outcome-based performance path.
States Stepping in to Change Zoning to Promote Affordable Housing
More states are intervening in zoning regulations, which have historically been a purely local matter. As a shortage of affordable housing impacts many areas of the country, the motivation for state officials to step in has grown.
Community zoning often bans anything other than single family homes. Such restrictive rules prompt states to set new ground rules to spur more multifamily construction. Some states have moved to loosen such restrictions.
Other states have focused on removing inclusionary affordable housing requirements. A few states this year moved to end affordable housing unit set-asides, reasoning that such mandates can actually make the housing problem worse. Inclusionary zoning rules can raise costs for developers, which discourage construction, say housing industry advocates.
Zero Energy Homes Are Ready for the Mainstream
Often marketed as luxury properties, zero energy homes have recently become more economical, and arguably can be suitable for mainstream markets, according to an article posted by the Rocky Mountain Institute. Zero energy homes fall under a 3% incremental cost in most parts of the country, with that cost dropping under 1% in a few locations.
If homeowners factor in the cost savings from lower utility bills, they can be enticed to pay a premium. Developers may even be able to construct these homes at cost parity in locations with stricter baseline codes and aggressive incentive offerings from local utilities.
Amid Devastation, a Lone House in Mexico Beach, Fla., Still Stands
A single house still stands in an area that was devastated by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla. The home was built last year on 40-foot pilings buried in the ground. It was constructed using poured concrete, reinforced by steel cables and rebar, with additional concrete bolstering the corners of the house.
Building with those features, along with many other hurricane-resilient strategies, roughly doubled the cost per square foot compared with ordinary building practices, according an architect quoted by the New York Times. Other authorities disputed that figure. The cost to beef up a home to withstand a powerful storm can be as little as $30,000, according to another expert.