Sustainable Philadelphia

Remodeling Sustainably in Philadelphia

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
May 13, 2019

At the time of the American Revolution some 240 years ago, Philadelphia was the most important American city and the place where the Declaration of Independence was originally signed. Today, the city of Philadelphia once again is taking up leadership in our country’s transition towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future. 

Recently, Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement that “climate change is real, and it’s already affecting Philadelphians. Philadelphia will continue to identify and implement strategies to cut carbon pollution and protect our most vulnerable residents from the changing climate.” While not a lot is happening at the national level politics to curb climate change and reduce our collective carbon footprint, major US cities continue to lead the way towards a post-carbon future. Below, we look at some of the most impressive far-reaching sustainability goals of the city of Philadelphia, its progressive framework for sustainable housing and energy efficiency, and then offer some suggestions for some home remodelers in the city of Brotherly Love.

Philadelphia’s Sustainability Goals 

The cornerstone of Philadelphia’s sustainability policies centers on the clean energy vision that was recently published and released by the city government. Titled “Powering Our Future: A Clean Energy Vision for Philadelphia”, this document sets forth a conclusive roadmap to help the city reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent in the next 30 years. Unlike other city plans, the Philadelphia government has included a wide range of both short term and long term goals and a comprehensive list of best sustainability practices for individuals, businesses, and organizations.

Powering our Future Philadelphia
Powering Our Future: A Clean Energy Vision for Philadelphia

In the short term, the city hopes to cut citywide carbon pollution by 25 percent by 2025 from 2006 levels. The city will begin that goal by focusing efforts on reducing the carbon pollution from the City-owned buildings and streetlights by 50 percent in the next decade.

The plan is broken into five focus areas, which include:

  • Clean electricity supply
  • Citywide solar
  • Energy-efficient homes and businesses
  • Low-carbon thermal energy
  • Low-carbon economy

The clean electricity supply and citywide solar focus areas specifically center on transitioning the city towards carbon-zero energy sources. Within the next thirty years, the power plants that provide energy to the city will be entirely composed of carbon-free, renewable sources of clean energy alternatives. The city will continue to urge its residents to install rooftop solar panels to improve air quality in the city while simultaneously reducing the carbon footprint of the homes we live in.

Most importantly, the city believes that this sustainability agenda will also yield significant economic benefits. Not only will the city invest in clean energy systems in every zip code across the city (thus ensuring equitable access to clean energy solutions for citizens from all income brackets), but it also hopes to lower energy bills for the 33 percent of Philadelphians struggling to pay bills. This transition to a low carbon economy is well poised to open up several family-supporting clean energy job opportunities while also spurring future economic growth.

What Does This Mean for Philadelphia Homeowners?

Over 79 percent of current greenhouse gas emissions in Philadelphia come from the over 600,000 buildings (both residential and commercial) and the electricity used to power those buildings. For this reason, one of the most essential elements of the “Powering our Future” clean energy vision is focused on incentivizing energy-efficient homes and businesses across the city. 

The Energy Efficient Homes and Business focus of the report is dedicated to eliminating the energy wasted in homes to save homeowners money, improve indoor air quality, and reduce reliance on fossil fuel-generated energy. Similarly, the low-carbon thermal energy focus is an effort to reduce home heating dependence on oil and gas furnaces. Specifically, the city plans to incentivize homeowners and businesses that make the switch to more energy-efficient heating alternatives, including emerging technologies such as microgrids, high-efficiency electric heat pumps, fuel cells, geothermal and solar heating systems, and renewable biogas for home and hot water heating.

geothermal heat pump infographic
Photo Credit: NC Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA)

To achieve more energy-efficient homes and businesses, the city hopes to expand upon a successful energy benchmarking program that has been implemented for large commercial and multifamily residential buildings across the City. The city’s energy benchmarking program helps large building owners and managers in Philadelphia better understand their energy and water use—because what gets measured gets managed. According to the report, over 2,800 buildings in 2017 reported their energy and water use to the city. These large buildings represented more than 30 percent of the total citywide square footage.

This benchmarking program allows buildings to discover their total energy usage and find ways to improve those buildings' energy efficiency and performance. The result has been that the median Energy Star score for these buildings was 63, or 13 points above the national average.

Also, the City is currently involved in modernizing residential building codes to include both new home construction and major renovations of existing row homes. This updated building code requires all new construction and renovations to meet the IRC (International Residential Code), significantly increasing the baseline level of energy increasing for residential homes. As it stands, the City believes that the implementation and enforcement of updated Residential Energy Codes can add up to an estimated 103,290 metric ton equivalents (MtCO2) in carbon savings while also saving homeowners (and the City) an annual cost savings of over 27 million dollars.

The City has also created several rebates and incentives for homeowners and large building owners across the city. High-performing buildings and homes will benefit from streamlined permitting, expanded density bonus incentives, and property tax incentives for buildings that go above and beyond the new building code for energy efficiency standards.

Home Remodelers to Get Started

Homeowners wanting to invest in low carbon retrofits to improve the thermal performance and energy efficiency of their homes would do well to search for the top home remodelers in Philadelphia who have experience in sustainability—which can mean a variety of things, including being well-versed in healthy home products, energy efficiency, solar, green roofs, having on staff LEED accredited professionals, etc. Below, we list and briefly review three of what we think are the more sustainable home remodelers in Philly. While we do not endorse these companies, these are the folks we would call first.

  • Orange Energy Solutions: Orange Energy Solutions focuses its remodeling on offering cost-effective ways to protect your home from expected rising energy costs while also improving the comfort and livability of the home. They take a holistic approach to the term “sustainability,” looking at the health and safety of the house, durability, and energy efficiency to reduce their clients’ carbon footprint and monthly energy bills. They typically work on projects that improve insulation, HVAC systems, windows, and doors—anywhere that could help tighten up the house's envelope. They also offer home performance assessments and energy audits.
  • Buckminster Green: This design/build company specializes in fine renovations of several types of homes across Philadelphia. Their team of architects, remodelers, and builders has a strong portfolio of deep energy retrofits. They work with clients individually to determine the most important goals for the renovation, including aesthetics, energy use goals, health concerns, and others.
  • Lord Contractors: Lord Contractors is one of the only architectural and construction companies in the Philadelphia area, a Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) Certified Builder, and has experience in Net Zero construction, sustainable building practices, and energy-efficient modular construction. While they specialize in new custom home construction, they also do extensive consulting and work on historic renovations across the state of Pennsylvania.

So if you live in Philadelphia and have been thinking about renovating your home, now is a great time to start. If you can add value to your home and decrease your operating costs, why wait?

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-09T16:45:02+0000