This article was originally published in the March/April 1997 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.
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Home Energy Magazine Online March/April 1997
Multiple Rewards from Multifamily RehabIn Chicago Apartments Get New Lease on Life (p. 23), Paul Knight describes the energy-efficient rehabilitation of abandoned buildings in blighted neighborhoods of Chicago. The article is important on several levels. At a practical level, it explains how current rehab procedures can be modified to create a vastly more efficient, and comfortable, finished building. The hardest step is deciding to invest in reducing energy use; after that, however, come the technical challenges of squeezing a lot of insulation and a new heating system into an existing brick shell. The results are satisfying: most residents in the rehabilitated apartments spend at least $20 per month less on energy and rent combined than tenants in traditionally rehabbed buildings. Since the occupants of these rehabs are often receiving some sort of public assistance, this is $240 per year of taxpayers' money saved for every unit. As with efficient new construction, better building envelopes in the rehabs means that they can use smaller heating systems, saving some of the first costs.
At the community level, these efficient, rehabilitated apartments are transforming neighborhoods. Restoring beautiful old buildings keeps the character of the neighborhoods, which is often lost when abandoned buildings are torn down and replaced with modern-style apartments. In this program, the buildings are restricted to low-income residents after rehab, so the work doesn't result in displacement and gentrification. Chicago's program targets corner buildings first. The rehabilitated corner buildings anchor a block-by-block transformation. As the neighborhood becomes more attractive and the housing costs (rent plus energy cost) become more affordable, occupant turnover declines and a more stable community develops.
At the national level, these rehabs demonstrate a new focus on operating costs. Historically, government--at all levels--has fixated on minimizing first costs without regard to operating and maintenance catastrophes that they may be causing. In 1990, the Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development joined in an unusual agreement to help promote energy efficiency for low-income residents. In 1995, they produced Eye on Energy, a guide to retrofitting with a whole-building approach. We're skeptical that the good words are being translated into true changes in attitude, but they are a start.
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