Cambridge Housing Authority

Lyndon B. Johnson Apartments

“L.B. Johnson Apartments is one more step toward achieving the Commonwealth’s nation-leading goals for energy savings, a healthier environment, and comfortable living for Massachusetts residents.”

–Mark Sylvia, Commissioner

 Massachusetts Department of Energy Resource

Still in the final stages of construction, the revitalization of the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) Apartments in Cambridge, Massachusetts, represents a major step forward in energy efficiency efforts in the area. The Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) is in charge of the project and estimates a 55 percent annual reduction in energy costs when the project is completed in October.

The 178-unit, high-rise building is home to seniors and younger disabled people. Because the building is mass metered, residents don’t pay monthly utility bills, but they will have greater control of temperature in their units, improving comfort and livability. And the $280,000 in annual utility savings will allow CHA to provide high-quality services in the face of budget and subsidy cuts across the industry.

Until now, few improvements had been made to the cast concrete building since its construction in 1973. Previously, all systems were electric, and core energy upgrades include switching to a highly efficient gas-fired heating system and central cooling system, augmented by a 150-kilowatt combined heat and power cogeneration system, as well as a photovoltaic solar array on the roof.

The exterior of the building was completely overhauled as well. A high-performance window wall system will greatly improve building performance and livability. And a new exterior insulation and finishing system provides an insulated, finished surface that greatly reduces air leakage.

To make sure air leakage metrics have been achieved, Matt Root of Conservation Services Group is conducting floor-by-floor blower door testing. “Reducing air leakage for all buildings is critical, and it’s just being paid more attention to in buildings outside the residential world,” he said. (Although LBJ is technically a residential building, its height and size are commercial scale.)

Though hard data isn’t available yet, Root is impressed with the improvements to the building’s exterior. In addition to reducing air leakage, the new barrier allows the building to be better conditioned and to withstand the weather extremes in Massachusetts. “I think it’s an incredible project,” he said. “They took this very antiquated and outdated building that was really an energy hog . . . and basically gave the building a new skin.”

“The revitalization of Cambridge’s L. B. Johnson Apartments is one more step toward achieving the Commonwealth’s nation-leading goals for energy savings, a healthier environment, and comfortable living for Massachusetts residents,” said Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia. “These apartments are now a better place to live. They’re also a sign of the advances made in Cambridge, one of our Green Communities, thanks to the incentives delivered by the Mass Save programs and the federal stimulus.”

In all, CHA harnessed $29 million in funding for the LBJ project. A $10 million grant was provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and additional financing was leveraged from the Public Housing Capital Fund Program, utility rebates, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program. The project also got support from community partners, including bond financing from MassDevelopment, a state finance and development agency.

Despite the end of ARRA, Tina Miller, energy consultant for CHA, believes large-scale capital projects like the LBJ Apartments can still find funding, as long as agencies are “constantly seeking out leverage and opportunities where they exist.” One strategy is to leverage post-retrofit energy savings to finance capital work. And low-income tax credits and partnerships with utilities, important components of the LBJ project, she said, will continue to be important for future projects.