REEA Multifamily Award: Net Zero Carey Ave Project

by Chris Shreve

For more than a decade, Charles Ruiter has worked to preserve affordable housing in the Las Vegas area. By revitalizing low-income properties with energy-efficient technology, his company, Ruiter Construction, has helped create jobs and ease the energy burdens of dozens of low-income families.

Last year, Ruiter decided to take energy efficiency to the next level by tackling the first net zero multifamily rehabilitation in the city of North Las Vegas. The distressed fourplex he chose at 3024 E. Carey Avenue “was probably the worst building in the neighborhood.”

To fund the deep energy retrofits that would bring the building to net zero, Ruiter approached the City of North Las Vegas. The city allocated $125,000 from Nevada’s Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, which benefits individuals and families whose incomes are up to 60% of the area median income. CRER, Inc. (a real estate company also owned by Ruiter) matched the city’s contribution, and then some, to bring the project’s total funding to around $285,000.

Planning began in the spring of 2013 and lasted several months. Ruiter used a sophisticated energy analysis tool called REM/Rate to calculate energy loads and help determine which building materials would perform better and be cost effective. The analysis showed, for example, that adding a complete building envelope of polyurethane foam meant the HVAC and PV systems could be downsized, offsetting the additional cost of the polyurethane foam. When combined with other energy efficiency measures, including low-E windows, energy recovery ventilation units, split system heat pumps, and Energy Star appliances, it all added up to net zero.

All photos courtesy of Charles Ruiter

With proper education, no tenant in the Carey Avenue building should ever receive an electricity bill. To help them learn how to use energy wisely, Ruiter installed some innovative technology. A tool called the eMonitor4 tracks the electricity usage of every circuit in the building, and the Enphase Energy Management Unit monitors solar production minute by minute. When tenants move in to the building in May, they’ll have access to these tools on the Web. And if Ruiter notices any spikes in use, he’ll show tenants where they’re using the most energy and suggest behavior changes to help them cut back.

The impacts of energy efficiency have already spread beyond the walls of the Carey Avenue building. During construction, Ruiter said other building owners in the neighborhood stopped by to watch the work and got interested in making their own buildings more energy efficient. As they begin to do so, property values are going up, and a distressed neighborhood is being revitalized.

For Ruiter, it’s just the start. He’s already looking for a property to transform into the second net-zero multifamily building in North Las Vegas.