Optimizing Affordable Housing on Nantucket

Sponsor: Housing Nantucket
Sponsor Liaison: Anne Kuszpa & Milen Tsvetkov, Housing Nantucket
Student Team: Ethan Forbes, Casey Hayes, Alexander Kafantis
Abstract: Housing Nantucket aims to provide low and moderate income residents of Nantucket with comfortable, affordable housing that is also energy efficient. The goal of this project was to research ways in which Housing Nantucket could improve the energy efficiency of their rental properties, expand their current property maintenance database, and plan a new eco-friendly office site to meet their ever growing demands. The final recommendations to housing Nantucket include a newly designed Access database, a list of improvements to be made to rental properties, an energy behaviors brochure to be distributed to tenants with Island wide applications, and suggested improvements to their office site plans.
Link: HN_Report


Executive Summary

Affordable housing is a problem in many communities in the United States, and Nantucket is no exception. On Nantucket, the median home price is over a million dollars and the average home sells for 2.4 million (United States Census Bureau, 2012). Nantucket’s status as a summer getaway location creates a very high demand for the limited number of properties available on the island. When a great number of wealthy individuals are willing to pay large sums for any available property this drives up value of all properties on Nantucket. Housing Nantucket, the island’s sole non-profit dedicated to providing affordable housing, oversees 27 affordable rentals for island residents. In order to increase the affordability of these properties, Housing Nantucket has made it their goal to make these homes as energy efficient as possible. Being the only on island organization dedicated to this cause, they have been expanding in order to fulfill the growing need for affordable housing; their current office and database could no longer support their needs as an organization. This project aims to help Housing Nantucket increase the energy efficiency of their existing rentals and address resulting from their expansion. The project has three main goals: 1) To evaluate the Housing Nantucket property database and provide suggestions on its improvement; 2) To assess tenant knowledge of energy saving behaviors and create educational materials that can be distributed to tenants and/or island residents, and 3) to assist Housing Nantucket in the development of their new office building by providing suggestions on viable energy saving technologies that could be incorporated into the building.

  1. Housing Nantucket’s existing database had no ‘search’ function, limited room for future expansion, and lacked definitive logical structure. For these reasons, we recommended the creation of a new database using the Microsoft Access database program and then designed the database for Housing Nantucket. The new Access database includes several sources of information, including energy related property data and provides a more functional and effective property management tool.
    • Our recommendation is that Housing Nantucket use the database frequently and keep it up-to-date in order to ensure it will remain useful and functional.
  2. We conducted a survey of tenants to assess energy saving attitudes and behaviors and to identify potential energy saving options. Eighteen of the twenty-seven tenants returned completed surveys. Based on the survey findings, we conclude:
    • Housing Nantucket tenants are fairly responsible when it comes to saving energy. Nearly all tenants said they turn lights off when they are not in the room, and many of them turn the thermostat down before leaving their house and add or remove layers of clothing to get comfortable rather than change the temperature.
    • Housing Nantucket properties suffer from many drafts, leading to a lack of comfort for tenants and wasted money and energy.
    • Many tenants do not unplug device chargers when they are not in use, even though they continue to draw power (‘phantom loads’).
    • Most tenants do not turn their cable boxes off when they are not watching television, even though these devices draw a lot of power.
    • Many properties include appliances that are not Energy Star™ certified.
    • The majority of tenants who responded said they are satisfied with Housing Nantucket as a landlord.

Based on these conclusions, we recommend that Housing Nantucket:

  • Consider providing tenants with appropriate weather stripping for free or at a reduced cost.
  • Consider purchasing ‘smart power strips’ and providing them to tenants at reduced cost to prevent ‘phantom loads’ associated with device chargers.
  • Encourage tenants and advise them as necessary to program cable remotes to turn both the television and cable boxes off with one press. Most modern cable remotes support this feature.
  • Consider replacing all future appliances with Energy Star™ certified products.
  • Distribute the brochure on energy saving tips for tenants developed and designed by the team in response to the survey findings.
  • Consider developing a more generalized pamphlet for seasonal renters that could help reduce the large peaks of energy usage during summer months.
  • Housing Nantucket periodically gather testimonials from tenants in order to promote their program to others.
  • All future acquired properties should also be audited as it is a proven way to save energy.

At the end of the survey, we also asked if the survey taker would like to talk to us more about how Housing Nantucket, energy efficiency and the energy audits have improved their lives. Many tenants indicated they would like to meet with us, however only three replied. The tenants we interviewed shared truly interesting stories with us – we heard from tenants with highly seasonal work, lifelong residents, and single parents – all of whom have benefited greatly from Housing Nantucket.

  1. Based on inspections of the Clifford House, discussions with Housing Nantucket staff and board members, and extensive review of the costs and benefits of different technologies, we recommend that Housing Nantucket should:
    • Redesign Clifford House in the following ways: The first floor should consist of two or more offices, one large conference room, a receptionist’s area, a children’s play space and a break/lunch room. The four bedrooms on the second floor should become offices with one of the rooms possibly becoming a storage room for files and paper records.
    • Rent the unused office space to other nonprofit organizations, allowing Housing Nantucket to earn back some of the renovation costs.
    • Place the building on an ICF foundation, which will save substantial amounts of energy in the long term and prevent mold. This will incur higher costs up front, which will eventually be paid off by lower energy expenses.
    • Include a 3.5 kW Photovoltaic system that will allow the office to produce 18% of its electricity a year for an installation cost of $20,000. The system will have paid for itself after 10 years due to the energy bill savings and the full payment of the ten year incentive plan. The office can expect a 25 year lifetime return on investment of $14,924.
    • Install missing weather stripping and insulation.
    • Install CFLs throughout as they will provide $143.20 in savings per year and reduce energy consumption on lighting by 80%.
    • Install low flow fixtures, toilets and programmable thermostats. All of these items are comparable in cost to their inefficient counterparts, and will provide noticeable savings in water and energy use.