Making Inroads: Phius 2021 Policy Wrap-up

isaac picIn this week’s blog, Phius Policy Specialist Isaac Elnecave outlines the various incentive programs, QAPs and energy codes that Phius was included in this past year.

The surge of Phius-related policies continued in 2021 with the inclusion of Phius in utility incentive programs, Qualified Allocation Plans and energy codes.

Over the last few years, it has become clear that well-designed policies can significantly spur the construction of projects meeting the Phius standard. In 2021 alone, there have been 47 projects submitted in Massachusetts, 29 projects in New York State and 27 projects in Connecticut (all states with existing Phius-related policies). 

With the calendar turning to 2022, we wanted to take this opportunity to provide a rundown of some of our policy successes from this past year. Below you will find a list of new Phius-related policies (including a number of advancements in Phius’ home state of Illinois).

Utility Incentives

Illinois

ComEd in Illinois has established a pilot incentive program providing money for both pre-construction and upon receiving final certification. ComEd will be taking applications for the program through 2022.  The applications will be reviewed on a competitive basis and will be chosen based on criteria such as size, financial status and timeline. Utilities in Massachusetts (through the MassSave program) and Connecticut (through energizeCT) offer similar programs.

Low-Income Housing Tax Credit

Illinois

The award-winning Finch Cambridge project was funded in part by a Massachusetts incentive program.

The award-winning Finch Cambridge project was funded in part by a Massachusetts incentive program.

The Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) completed the 2022-2023 Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP). The QAP is the document the IHDA uses to evaluate which potential projects will receive tax credits. The evaluation process consists of using a points system (projects with higher point totals are more likely to receive funding). One of the criteria for evaluation is sustainability and/or energy efficiency. In the new QAP, projects receiving a Phius CORE certification will receive 10 points (Phius Zero projects receive an additional three points) out of a possible 100 points. 

Michigan

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority included Phius in its QAP for the first time. Projects meeting the Phius standard will receive four points; most other standards will receive three points or fewer. 

Connecticut

While Phius projects have been included in previous versions of the Connecticut QAP, the updated version gives Phius projects the largest number of points (only projects meeting the Living Futures Standard receive the same number of points). 

Energy Codes

Illinois

The Illinois legislature enacted – and the Governor signed – the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). Among the requirements included in the 800-page piece of legislation, is that the Illinois Capital Development Board (the agency in charge of developing the state energy code) must include Phius as an alternative compliance path. This means that projects certified by Phius automatically meet code in Illinois.

We at Phius are proud of the inroads we and our community made in the realm of policies, incentives and codes this past year, and we look forward to carrying that momentum into 2022.

Policy Update: The Massachusetts Stretch

isaac pic

Isaac Elnecave, a member of the PHIUS certification team, has written this update on the Massachusetts stretch cove, the latest installment of his policy updates.

Over the last 8 years, Massachusetts has made significant progress towards making the passive house (PHIUS+) standard an integral part of its building energy code. This effort points the way to the end goal of creating a cost-effective net-zero energy code.

Besides its statewide base energy code, which is an amended version of the latest International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) model code, the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) in Massachusetts has, since 2009, promulgated a “stretch” energy code. The base energy code governs the minimum energy saving requirements in buildings throughout the state. The requirements include: the amount of insulation required in ceilings, walls and foundations; window performance; the level of air tightness; ventilation requirements; the efficacy of lighting and the efficiency of HVAC equipment. It is often described as the worst possible building (from an energy perspective) that can legally be built.

A stretch energy code incorporates similar measures and design approaches but mandates energy efficiency requirements that result in higher performance buildings than those meeting the base energy code. While the base energy code is the default requirement across all towns and cities in the Commonwealth, the stretch energy code must be affirmatively adopted by local municipalities that want to enforce it (at which point, it supplements and overrides the base energy code in that jurisdiction). Importantly, unlike New York State, because the BBRS approves the stretch code, municipalities that adopt it cannot amend it.

In both the Base and Stretch codes in Massachusetts, there is a section for alternative compliance strategies, which specifically includes passive house in both the low-rise residential energy code chapter and the commercial energy code chapter. Under the requirements of its current edition, and in fact since 2012, in any jurisdiction that adopts the stretch code in Massachusetts, a PHIUS+ certified passive house automatically meets code. The current code amendments specify that the annual heating demand for PHIUS certified home or commercial building must be less than 10 kbtu/ft2/year; a value easily met by all certified PHIUS buildings.

The latest edition of the Massachusetts stretch code has just been adopted but has not yet been promulgated* — the expected promulgation date is February 8, 2020 with an effective date of Aug 8, 2020. There will be two significant changes. First, PHIUS itself has updated its standard to PHIUS + 2018 from PHIUS + 2015. Second, with this new edition, a residential or commercial building will be code compliant when it passes the pre-certification stage (much like saying a typical house is given code approval once the plans have been approved.) The updated energy code, based on the IECC 2018, shifts the passive house compliance option from the 10 kBtu/ft2/year metric to an option to seek PHIUS precertification prior to pulling a permit. A project must demonstrate that it has been submitted for final certification by PHIUS to receive the certificate of occupancy. Because PHIUS maintains a rigorous review process through the end of construction, this approach ensures a high quality of construction.

Passive house certification requirements are significantly more stringent than even the other alternative paths in the stretch code (the most commonly used path in the Massachusetts residential stretch code allows for an Energy Rating Index score of 55, which is well above the score typically achieved by a certified passive house).

Massachusetts provides an excellent example of how to use incentives to spur the development of high-performance buildings. Mass Save®, the statewide energy efficiency program in Massachusetts, launched a mid- to high-rise passive house incentive program in the summer of 2019. In the first 6 months over 40 projects with over 3,000 passive house units in development have signed up for the program.  As more projects are built meeting PHIUS standards either through the stretch code or through Mass Save, the universe of designers and builders who become proficient in the construction of high-performance builders grows. This proficiency will result in greater confidence among construction professionals and lower costs with respect to high performance buildings.

As the PHIUS standard includes a pathway to net-zero construction, including it in the stretch and base energy code provides a path for future improvements. In Massachusetts, stretch code development will now focus on a ‘net-zero’ code to run alongside an amended IECC 2021 base code. Having the passive house pathway in the energy codes has introduced designers and builders to the tools and techniques necessary for building cost-effective net-zero single-family and multi-family dwelling. PHIUS looks forward to working with Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, BBRS and other key stakeholders in making a net-zero code a reality.

Massachusetts in one of three states and one municipality that have incorporated the PHIUS standard in the energy code. New York was discussed in a previous blog (Policy Update: New York State, Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, January 16, 2020). I’ll discuss efforts in Washington State and the city of Denver in a future post.

* Adoption means voting and signing by government official. Promulgation (it specifically means the decree that puts a law into effect), in practice, refers to when the agency in charge of enforcing the law signs off on the rules and regulations relating to the law.