Saving Energy and Money: The Story of The Boston House

by Robert Thomason

The following is an article by Robert Thomason, condo board director at the Boston House in Dupont Circle. The piece discusses the efforts that the board and building have taken to reduce their energy consumption and costs over the last few years. Michael Kiefer of Green DC Realty assisted with reporting and research.

Utilities can easily consume one-third of a condominium’s budget. If long-term trends in energy costs continue to increase as expected, condo owners will see those rises reflected in their monthly fees unless they take action to use energy more wisely. For the Boston House, a 271-unit high rise condo in Dupont Circle, that means working hard to keep energy costs under control while keeping residents comfortable. We’ve had our successes and challenges.

Saving Energy and Money: The Story of The Boston House: Figure 1
Boston House

Our building, constructed in 1950, still had its original, single-pane, drafty windows seven years ago when I joined the board. A bad experience with D.C.‘s Historic Preservation Office cost us a full heating season before we could replace the windows, but once we did, our fuel usage for heating went down 16 percent and our homes were much more comfortable.

The next task was to modernize all the heating and cooling units (convectors) in the building. This project took a number of years to get full compliance from all the owners, but the result was an energy-efficient system that circulates water through the building and thermostatically-controlled fans blow hot or cold air into the apartments according to the season. I found that for a couple winters, I didn’t even have to turn the fans on to blow out heat; the simple radiant heat from the water moving through the pipes along with the shared heat in the building was sufficient.

A major struggle has occurred with an upgrade of the domestic hot water system. We installed high-efficient hot water heaters, but found that the storage was inadequate. This resulted in spotty hot water delivery to many of the units. We are putting in additional tanks and adding insulation to the distribution pipes to resolve this issue. What the hot water project taught us was the need for a top-to-bottom look at the energy operations of a building. There are several ways to do this, and the board has been studying them.

We have not ignored solar power, but are not ready for it. Years ago, the board was actively looking at the prospect of leasing solar equipment, but the elimination of the tax credits for this equipment in the middle of the last decade ended that search. Now that tax credits have returned, new financing strategies have arisen. In addition to leasing and selling the equipment, companies are offering purchasing power agreements where it would buy, install and maintain the solar equipment and charge the building for the heat that was pumped from the roof to the boiler room. The Boston House is not ready to do that now, but we have looked at the potential of the roof and the prospect of running pipes down an abandoned incinerator chimney.

A critical part of our energy program is our record keeping. Every Monday, our building staff takes readings from the electrical, natural gas and water meters. These readings not only let us track our utility use, but they have proved handy in resolving billing disputes with the utilities.

Finally, we have organized an energy committee that gives residents a voice in making suggestions and pointing out solutions. People have been happy to share their experiences and educate one another. For example, around Halloween we were able to post signs about “vampire power,” which is the energy wasted by electronic appliances while they are in standby mode. If most residents in the building would put a few appliances (such as TVs or computers) on a power strip and then turn the strip off when they didn’t need the appliances, we could see a noticeable savings on monthly condo fees.

In conclusion, getting a program in place that serves 271 homes and doesn’t cost them an outsized investment upfront has been a major challenge. But if it is not done, the money we pay to the utility companies will be taking dollars out of our pockets that would be used for better things.

Thomason publishes GlobalResourcesNews.com, a site about ecology and economics.

See other articles related to: green real estate dc, dupont circle, dclofts, dc condos

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/saving_energy_and_money_the_story_of_the_boston_house/1798


  1. Dan said at 12:26 pm on Saturday February 20, 2010:
    Also consider educating the residents on the many ways they can individually take to reduce their own household's consumption of electricity, heating, cooling, water heating and clean water resources to save themselves money. http://dailyhomerenotips.com/energy-conservation/ Collections such as the one above are freely available. This one in particular contains in excess of 500 heating and water savings suggestions, including: 400+ which are simple and easy to do 275+ which cost absolutely nothing to do 115+ which cost just a little to do 120+ clean water usage reduction ideas 115+ electricity conservation suggestions 110+ home heating savings tips While major energy efficiency investments can be very productive in reducing energy and water consumption, the savings will not be maximized or even in part realized if the residents of the households themselves do not undertake energy conservation and water savings steps. I hope this helps, Dan
  1. Ken Wilson said at 7:54 pm on Monday April 5, 2010:
    Robert forgot to mention that the hot water system was a replacement for the summer h2o boilers, not designed for year round use. He also forgot to mention that the winter storage tank failed when hydrotested due to its age and would have had to be replaced anyway.

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »


Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »