Since founding Boston Green Building in 2007, Brian Butler has made a name for himself building and retrofitting single- and multi-family homes within Boston’s historic metropolis. In a city dating back to America’s earliest days, there is no shortage of sagging, centuries-old homes crying out for help.
“We are a service-based company, and we focus on providing our clients with projects that are on-time, within budget and with quality as the overarching factor,” he says. “Understandably, having a back office with open billing, an in-house millwork shop, project managers in the field, and excellent subcontractors who understand the green approach are paramount in meeting these pillars.”
Boston Green Building currently has four deep energy retrofit projects under contract. According to Butler, each retrofit is part of the National Grid Deep Energy Retrofit Pilot Program, which funds energy-based retrofits up to $42,000 for single-family homes and as much as $100,000 for multifamily units. Run in partnership with Building Science Corp., the projects receive the latest guidance on technical approaches for optimal efficiency, health and safety, helping increase building durability and reduce future maintenance costs.
“It’s an excellent program designed to encourage more area homeowners to embrace the energy saving concepts associated with green building standards. Usually any property eligible for the program is in a poor energy performance condition often with Home Energy Rating System (HERS) ratings exceeding 100,” says Butler, who was recently named Best Green Contractor by Boston Home Magazine. “This arbitrary scale allows us to evaluate where a house is at and where it can go. With a HERS of zero, it uses no more than it produces.”
The house Butler is currently working on tested at 130 HERS. “With a goal of hitting a zero on the HERS scale, we are super insulating and changing out all the mechanical systems for state of the art equipment,” he says. “And in this particular retrofit, we will also add renewable energy components (such as photovoltaic and solar-thermal thermal panels on the back of the house). Since this is also my personal residence, it has served as a bit of a laboratory for us to bring new equipment and experiment with end results, while remaining under the watchful eye of Building Science Corp.”
One of Butler’s most recent projects is a 3500 square foot, 7-bedroom multifamily unit located in close proximity to Tufts University – meaning the potential for tenants remains high. In completing this retrofit, Butler is intently focused on using proven air sealing techniques with the blower door test serving as a primary measuring tool. “Ultimately, we are aiming at 95 percent reduction in leakage,” he says. “It has been a blast to watch it come down. If we hit this target it will be a huge accomplishment for a retrofit.”
Boston Green Building’s deep energy retrofit projects are prime examples of how homeowners can achieve noticeable returns on investment, explains Butler. “While the various green technologies garnering all the attention are wonderful additions, what people really need to focus on is insulation, which usually has a three to five year payback. With results like that it is not hard to show the payback,” he says. “Our goal is to pursue the European approach to building a Passive House, with up to 90 percent reduction in consumption when compared to a code built house. As a result, we do our best to educate the client around what we can implement without breaking the budget. Windows are not always as easy to sell, but are equally important as we work to build tighter houses. The one noticeable benefit with new high efficiency window is that homeowners often have an increased comfort level.”
Looking forward, Butler is bidding, in conjunction with the architects at Zero Energy Design – on the potential development of three parcels within Boston as part of the mayor’s E-Plus program, which is structured to induce developers to build energy positive housing. In addition, Butler hopes to develop a 5 unit net-zero neighborhood in Cambridge, MA as the economy rebounds. As with Boston Green Building’s past projects, insulation will play a huge part when complemented with other sustainable elements.