Better Buildings by Design 2017

January 31, 2017 | 3 min read
Liz Gamache | Director of Efficiency Vermont

Today marks the first day of Efficiency Vermont’s 16th Better Buildings by Design conference. This is one of my favorite events of the year because it brings together our partners from the building, design, and clean energy industries. More than 1000 attendees from across the country are at this year’s conference and we’re offering more than 40 workshops over the next two days.

As I opened the conference today with some welcoming remarks, I talked about the role I see energy efficiency playing in the industry – as a unifier. It’s a common sense solution that isn’t up for debate, because it’s hard to argue that no matter where our energy is coming from, we should try to use less of it. And when we improve our building envelopes and upgrade our building systems, we aren’t just saving money, we’re also enhancing comfort and making spaces healthier and more productive. 

Vermonters are using over 14% less electricity than they did in 2000 thanks to energy efficiency. It is integral to our grid, it increases the stability and reliability of our power supply, and it is a cost effective investment. For every dollar put toward efficiency, there is a two dollar return. At Efficiency Vermont we aim to continue delivering on that investment, with a focus on housing affordability and economic growth and development.

Increasing housing affordability and availability

I took an opportunity to highlight some of the ways that Efficiency Vermont partnered with local organizations, developers, contractors, and property owners to increase housing availability and affordability in 2016.

In Waltham, VT, we assisted with the transformation of an abandoned mobile home park to a 14-home net-zero modular home park at McKnight Lane. This project was developed by Addison County Community Trust in partnership with Cathedral Square Corporation, and all of the homes were built by VERMOD. It brought together energy efficiency, and renewable generation and storage with the support of Green Mountain Power, to create a stable stock of long-term affordable housing.

In Milton we aided in the design and development of Elm Place, the first passive house multi-family building for low-income senior citizens. Also developed by Cathedral Square Corporation, this project demonstrated that the highest level of energy efficiency isn’t just for those with means. Not only is it providing low-cost housing to a fixed-income population. It is also serving as a healthy and comfortable living environment.

These are just a few examples of how local organizations, developers, and utilities can work collaboratively to make a huge impact on Vermonters’ lives. And with more projects in the works this year I’m excited to watch that impact continue to grow.

Driving Vermont’s economy forward

I also wanted to acknowledge the many ways that energy efficiency can serve as an economic driver. Looking around the room at all of the conference attendees, workshop presenters, and exhibitors, it was evident how widespread this industry’s reach is. Vermont’s 2016 Clean Energy Industry Report states that over 17,000 workers, that’s 1 in every 17, works in energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean transportation, or a related support service industry. And a recent report from E4 the Future states that nearly 8,600 Vermont residents work in energy efficiency related jobs specifically.

Beyond these employment numbers, energy efficiency also helps to move business forward in Vermont. Businesses can reap many benefits from energy savings ranging from a healthy bottom line to a more comfortable and safe workforce, to improved operations and productivity. In 2016 we saw these benefits play out in businesses across the state including Adams North Barre Granite, Champlain Orchards, 14th Star Brewery, Jolley and Higher Ground, to name a few.

These stories demonstrate the many ways that Vermont businesses can improve their work conditions and operations while reducing costs with energy efficiency. I see so much potential for our state’s key industries to grow and thrive, and I’m excited to continue our work supporting that momentum with full force in 2017.

Achievements across Vermont

Before officially kicking off the conference with an excellent keynote speech from Ann Edminster, I had the pleasure of recognizing some of the incredible achievements by architects, engineers, builders, and contractors using energy efficiency and sustainability practices to construct or renovate Vermont buildings.  

Given annually, the Best of the Best awards are given for commercial and residential new construction, major commercial rehabilitation projects, and for home improvements made by Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® contractors. The winners exemplify the integration of innovative energy efficient practices with durability, artistry, and practicality. A total of 17 award recipients from across Vermont were recognized this year.