27. Demand Net Zero Construction

This show aired at noon on Friday October 25, 2019 (and again on Saturday at 8:30am) on PhillyCAM’s radio station WPPM 106.5 LP FM in Philadelphia.

Hear the audio anytime. The script is below. Produced by Meenal Raval, with research assistance by Angela Vogel.


Hello and welcome to Philly Talks Climate — where we talk about the climate crisis, how it affects Philadelphia, and how we solve this for our region. I’m Meenal Raval, and I’ll be your host. 

Last Week

Last week, our brief episode was about our Mayor — Mayor Kenney goes to Copenhagen. And returns to form the Climate Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia

News You Can Use 

This week’s News You Can Use began with a tiny article in the Chestnut Hill Local, titled… Lutheran Seminary proposes large scale residential development. A common enough story about fitting more people into a neighborhood. 

A neighbor reminded me that there are several other major developments in our corner of the world, notably the shuttered Germantown High School / Fulton Elementary School campus, and Trolley Car Diner. I was reminded that there have been no discussions about how these developments further aggravate the climate crisis. 

The Lutherans, like most faith-based groups, have positions supporting climate action with statements such as this from 2018 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The present moment is a critical and urgent one, filled with both challenge and opportunity to act as individuals, citizens, leaders and communities of faith in solidarity with God’s good creation and in hope for our shared future. 

Last month in New York, around the time of the UN Climate Summit, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America led an Interfaith coalition to galvanize action on climate emergency

Connecting the dots, a few neighbors decided to demand that this new housing development at the Lutheran Seminary be designed as a “net zero” project. 

What’s net zero? 

A net zero energy building is one with zero net energy consumption. Meaning the building will produce as much energy as is consumed. 

Designing such buildings not only decreases carbon emissions, but also makes for healthier spaces, more productive spaces. Doing so also saves on operational costs. Which translates to reduced monthly bills for fossil-fuel expenses — think about what you spend on oil, gas, electric, gasoline & diesel! 

Listen to the US Department of Energy explain “What is a Zero Energy Building” 

[Insert audio segment from above link]

So you see, whether residential or commercial, when designed to be energy efficient, the end users need very little energy to stay comfortable. If we design so that this very little energy is  not be fossil fuel based, but instead — electric, the energy needs could be powered by renewables. Even for heating systems. 

Any parking spaces planned for the new construction should be designed with electric vehicles and bicycles in mind. 

With the City’s recent legislation on grey water systems, this project could harvest rainwater for use in the toilets, and circulate laundry water into the mix as well. 

Of course, keeping our City’s zero waste by 2035 goal, the “trash” area will need to be designed for separating out recyclables and compostables. Ideally, the compost can be processed right on premises and spread on the raised beds and around trees. 

This is possible, it’s in line with the Lutheran position on the climate crisis, and it’s significantly more cost efficient to include energy efficiency and EV infrastructure in construction from the start. 

So, if we make ‘em tight, and make ‘em electric — and what little energy the new buildings need could be electricity from rooftop solar panels. 

I’d like to weave in a personal story…

Two years ago when we decided to downsize from our 4 bedroom twin, our house-hunting was also conducted with a climate lens. We looked at smaller homes, realizing that would need less energy to remain comfortable. We looked at the roof orientation, checking that we could use all the roof space for solar panels. We looked at where we would park our one car, how we would charge the car batteries and where our bicycles would go. Not in the living room again! 

Now, in a well insulated house with new windows, a roof packed with solar panels, we happily cook, bathe and surf — with no gas hookup. All the energy we need comes from the rooftop panels, even for the electric car. This is what net zero energy looks like. 

As a city policy, this translates to all new construction being electric only, with no gas hookups and of course, rooftop solar. 


Can this be done? Let’s look at some examples… 

Berkeley in CA was the first to ban the use of natural gas in new low-rise residential buildings. 

San Jose, a much larger city, followed. They ban natural gas infrastructure from being installed in many new residential buildings. San Jose also requires all new multi-family buildings to have electric vehicle (EV) parking spaces; where the cars can be charged overnight. We know electric cars have 60% less emissions than a gasoline car, so this is a great way to make it easier for people to transition to electric cars. 

Seattle passed a series of EV readiness standards requiring that a certain number of parking spaces at new buildings have wiring and outlets for EV charging. Seattle’s Mayor Jenny Durkan said it is “significantly more cost efficient to include EV infrastructure in construction from the start.”

Other considerations

According to C40, a worldwide coalition of over eighty cities that include Philadelphia, cities can be a major force in climate action.  Also according to C40, buildings in urban areas are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and typically account for over half of a city’s emissions. In Philadelphia, greenhouse gas emissions from buildings account for 60% of our emissions. 

There’s a national group, the US Green Building Council (USGBC) certifying net zero projects as LEED Zero.  LEED Zero certifies projects for net zero energy, and also for how they manage the waste and water needs of this space. LEED Zero encourages community planning versus simply net zero requirements for each building. Aiming for this certification would make neighborhoods more walkable, reducing suburban sprawl and the necessity of driving a car everyplace. 

We discovered a tool to measure how an existing building performs compared to other similar buildings nearby. If interested, do try the Zero Tool, found at zero tool dot org. 

In closing, net zero construction is not an esoteric technology and it has already been used by forward-thinking builders right here in Philadelphia. Builders such as Onion Flats and others. 

Whichever faith-based group you belong to… whether you’re a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Native American, a Jew, a Christian, or simply believe in Science, you know there’s a need to act fast on climate! 

Engage with your Elected

We in Philadelphia cannot allow new development to proceed without addressing the climate crisis. We need to demand that all new construction be designed for net zero energy usage; and operation of these buildings will add zero additional greenhouse gas emissions. 

How to engage on this? 

If you hear of a new development project in your neighborhood, go to the public meetings and demand that this project be designed as a net zero energy project — for the building, for the transportation, for the waste and for the water. Demand net zero construction! 

And please copy us about this. We’d love to report on the development of these developments. 

We are Philly Talks Climate, reachable at phltalksclimate@gmail.com.

Connect with Concerned Others 

With most groups canvassing for their favorite candidates, there aren’t many events this weekend where you can connect with others concerned about the climate crisis.  

You’ll find details about local climate-related events on our Connect page at Philly Talks Climate.

Closing Quote 

Our closing quote this week is from Hal Harvey

“We expect seat belts to work, we expect air bags to work, why don’t we expect buildings to work?”

Closing Music 

Schoolhouse Rock – Energy Blues – https://youtu.be/wX2wrXwe8ZM


— end


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