Sep 13, 2023 - Climate

Boston's first "passive" single-family homes preview greener future

The three Brucewood houses in West Roxbury. Photo: Courtesy of RODE architects.

A new West Roxbury residential development has been certified as "passive."

  • They are the first single-family houses in Boston to join a global green building trend reshaping design and construction.

Why it matters: As municipalities in Greater Boston tighten building codes and energy efficiency rules, design methods and certifications like passive homes will become the norm to limit energy use and emissions.

Driving the news: The Brucewood Homes project in West Roxbury was designed from the ground up to reduce energy use in cooling and heating and to limit the structure's carbon impact.

  • The three single-family homes are essentially air-sealed with high-efficiency HVAC systems, windows and extreme layers of insulation to create an envelope that captures warm air in the winter and cool air in the summer.

Details: To earn certification from the International Passive House Association, buildings must use minimal energy for heating and cooling, maintain indoor air quality and meet net-zero energy standards.

The big picture: In 2021 Massachusetts updated a net zero building code framework for municipalities to opt into — part of the state's plan to lower buildings' greenhouse gas emissions and reach a 50% total reduction by 2030.

Zoom in: By next year Boston, Somerville, Cambridge and most of the area's biggest suburbs including Newton, Brookline, Wellesley and Lexington will have adopted the guidelines.

  • Among much else, the suggested code requires passive house certification or similar efficiency results for multifamily buildings over 12,000 square feet.

Yes, but: A cutting-edge, efficient home isn't cheap. The three 2,700-square-foot Brucewood Street houses each sold for at least $1.4 million, reports

What we're watching: Critics worry strict new codes will make new construction much more expensive during a housing crisis where affordable new construction is pivotal.

  • In a report, researchers at MIT and Wentworth encouraged policymakers to offer incentives to builders to make the up-front costs of green homes more reasonable.

What they're saying: The project's architect, RODE co-founder Kevin Deabler told Axios that single-family houses like this are an important step, but the real impact of passive design will happen through multi-family projects.

  • "We know that higher density living has much less impact on the environment all together," he said.
  • RODE plans to continue expanding their passive portfolio with new single-family, multifamily and commercial projects.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Boston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Boston stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Boston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more