g r e e n development
reaching for the stars
Boston-based architect Bill Boehm transforms a
wilted 1850s home into model of modern energy-efficiency
Written by MEAGHAN O’NEILL
the original 1850 gable-roofed house
had been added onto over the years (top).
Architect Bill Boehm gutted the three-unit
building (middle) and transformed it into
two eco-savvy condos (bottom).
With homeowners increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of their property, green building is
quickly shifting from novelty to norm. So when
Boston-based architect Bill Boehm, principal of
Boehm Architecture, purchased a multifamily
residence in Cambridge with the intention of
turning it into two condos, both his ethos and his
wallet drove the plan for the redesign.
To date, measuring sticks for building green
homes have been few. Last fall, the US Green
Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system
launched its residential program. But critics contend that costly fees make it impractical for many
property owners and that the point-based rating
system encourages scorekeeping rather than true
eco-effectiveness. “The process is all about point
negotiation,” says Boehm, who designed and
built one of New England’s first LEED-certified
homes. “It’s almost like a game.”
For this project, his first as both architect
and developer, Boehm instead aimed for Energy
Star-branded qualification which he feels is better suited to residential building.
According to Energy Star, the premium for
building to its specifications is between $2,000
and $2,500 for a 2,400-square-foot-home. Boehm
estimates that going for LEED certification
would have cost several thousand dollars beyond
that in materials, project management, and paperwork. Since LEED homes must also be built
to Energy Star specifications, choosing the latter
was a simpler way for Boehm to build green.
The Energy Star program — a joint effort
of the US Environmental Protection Agency
and the Department of Energy — is already well
known for its blue labels, which signify electric
appliances as energy-efficient. But for an entire
building to receive the stamp of approval, it must
venture well beyond superior dishwashers and
refrigerators. Specifically, effective insulation,
high-performance windows, tight construction,
and efficient heating and cooling equipment are
though they don’t contribute to the Energy Star
rating, materials and finishes such as (above
left) bamboo flooring and low-VOC kitchen
cabinets create a contemporary aesthetic without
off-gassing toxins or depleting natural resources.
A wood-burning fireplace (left) serves as a
supplemental source of heat.