The Design Guide for Deep-Energy Retrofits

Rachel Williams

Reassembling the Earth


Jazairy El Hadi


Existing buildings in the U.S. consume more than 40% of overall energy and contribute 35-45% of overall GHG emissions. In Boston, 97% of the existing building stock is residential with many buildings built before any energy codes were introduced. Architecture and ecology have had a conscious relationship since the early 20th century, but dialogue and practices in the field have stopped short of dealing with existing buildings. Boston has mentioned the need to perform deep-energy retrofits on all existing buildings in order to meet its energy targets outlined in Carbon Free Boston (2019), but no movement has commenced on starting this important preventative phase against Climate Change.

This relationship between architecture and ecology has evolved through a multitude of phases, from integration and harmony with nature, to simulating closed ecosystems, to protecting the humankind from nuclear disaster, to lessening the GHG impact of architecture on the atmosphere. Considering the continuing impact of GHG emissions of existing buildings on the hot-button issue of the threat of Climate Change, the next phase of the relationship between architecture and ecology needs to be centered around retrofitting existing buildings. Architects, city officials and residents need both information and inspiration as motivators to push into this next phase – to shift the focus away from constructing net-zero new buildings to energy-fortifying existing buildings.

A design guide to deep-energy retrofits will help push the dialogue among architects, lawmakers and property owners towards deep-energy retrofits. A specific case study of the most common residential building type in Boston – the triple decker – will serve as the focal point of the guide, allowing in-depth analysis on construction processes and details. This scale of design also allows the design guide to reach property owners who would not be interested in city-wide larger-scale changes. Existing guidebooks to energy retrofits are either informal, not focused on residential buildings, or communicate an overload of dense information. This guide aims to not only walk readers through a deep-energy retrofit but also inspire change and communicate the urgency of change through drawings and animations.