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Boston gives green light to more efficient housing

City plans more energy-positive units

Lilly Boyd checked out one of the four ultra energy-efficient homes completed in her neighborhood near Dudley Square.

DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF

Lilly Boyd checked out one of the four ultra energy-efficient homes completed in her neighborhood near Dudley Square.

Boston officials are moving to expand construction of ultra energy-efficient homes following the completion of a pilot development in Roxbury where the units generate nearly twice as much power as they consume.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s housing chief marked completion of those first four homes near Dudley Square on Tuesday by saying the city intends to approve construction of another 40 in Mission Hill.

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“There is no downside to this type of housing,” said Sheila Dillon, head of neighborhood development under Menino. “The technologies provide savings for the homeowners, and it’s good for Boston, which is a very densely packed city that consumes a lot of energy.”

The homes use efficient building materials, double-thick insulation, and solar equipment to generate more power than they consume. The four homes built on Highland Street in Roxbury are part of a first wave of energy-positive development in the United States, with new homes beginning to pop up from Seattle to Sarasota, Fla.

The four homes, on Highland Street in Roxbury, feature a wide range of energy-efficient features.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The four homes, on Highland Street in Roxbury, feature a wide range of energy-efficient features.

While the homes cut energy costs over the long run, the upfront price is steep. The units on Highland Street, developed by Urbanica Inc., are selling for $550,000 apiece, with one selling for $217,000 as a below-market affordable unit. The price does not include the cost of the solar energy equipment, which can be purchased for another $50,000 or leased for about $105 a month.

If buyers can get over the initial sticker shock, the homes do cut utility costs by about $132 per month, according to an estimate prepared by the project’s solar provider, Transformations Inc. of Lexington. Combined with tax credits, that means homeowners could recoup their investment in the equipment within five to six years. After that, homeowners will be able to generate revenue by selling power back into the energy grid.

“What makes the project in Roxbury exciting is that it’s carbon-free living in an urban environment,” said Ben Cumbie, a senior vice president of Transformations Inc., which has developed energy-positive homes in Harvard, Townsend, and other rural communities

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Boston officials had initially hoped to sell the Roxbury homes for less than $400,000, but the project’s completion coincided with a period of sharply rising housing prices in Boston, with the median condominium price hovering around $540,000.

Each home is about 2,000 square feet and comes with an outdoor patio, third-floor terrace, and a wide range of energy-efficient features, including triple-glazed windows that reduce heat gain, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and an air filtration system that pumps more clean air into the home.

Real estate specialists said it would be exceedingly difficult — if not impossible — to reduce the cost of such homes without significant public subsidies.

“The math just doesn’t work,” said Greg Vasil, chief executive of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, which represents 8,000 real estate professionals. “The technology is not available at a low enough cost to meet a market where people can afford this.”

But Boston officials said they hope to chip away at the high prices by building as many energy-positive homes as they can. The project in Roxbury was launched by the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Department of Neighborhood Development, which will partner again on the next development in Mission Hill.

The homes are slated to be built on city-owned parcels on Parker and Terrace streets. Six developers have replied to the city’s request for proposals. Dillon, Menino’s housing chief, said up to 40 homes will be built on the sites, which include space for a community garden and retail stores.

The proposals will be reviewed at a community meeting scheduled for Sept. 7.

Casey Ross can be reached at casey.ross@globe.com.

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