Better Building Practices Spotlighted

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Tompkins Weekly 9-7-15

By Nick Goldsmith

In Tompkins County, as in most places, our built environment – the collection of buildings we live, work, and play in – is responsible for a large portion of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. This article describes two projects that the City of Ithaca and the Town of Ithaca are working on to address this issue: The Residential Energy Score Project and energy efficiency standards for new construction.

The Residential Energy Score Project (RESP) is a first-of-its kind project that is seeking to create strong market demand for energy efficiency in existing houses and, by extension, to reduce utility costs for homeowners, to increase energy literacy, and to help promote local sustainability goals. RESP is a partnership of the Towns of Caroline, Danby, Ulysses, and Ithaca, the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County, and Cornell Cooperative Extension. Ithaca-based Performance Systems Development was engaged to manage the project and provide technical expertise.

The project aims to create a voluntary program where homeowners could get a home energy score that could be shared with prospective buyers, tenants, or other interested parties. A home energy score, also called a home energy rating, is an easy-to-understand assessment of the relative energy efficiency of a home. It is often compared to a miles-per-gallon (MPG) rating for a car. The RESP is currently in the program design phase, and is conducting outreach to solicit feedback from the community. The project team aims to have a program and implementation plan endorsed by the participating municipalities by spring 2016. Get the answers to Frequently Asked Questions about RESP at and download a press release at

The Residential Energy Score Project is one important example of how the City and the Town are addressing energy use in existing buildings, and this sector will remain a priority in future sustainability efforts. But given the building boom that the City is experiencing – in combination with the trend of local conversations exploring issues such as the interplay of economic development and climate goals, and how to advance community goals of social equity and greenhouse gas reduction through tax abatement restructuring – the time is ripe to address energy efficiency in new construction.

The City of Ithaca, in collaboration with the Park Foundation, recently applied for grant funding to examine and adopt policy tools the City and Town of Ithaca can use to incentivize or mandate green building standards for new construction. Much of the funding would support a new Sustainability Manager position at the City to lead the two-year project. If the application is successful, the grant program, Partners for Places, will match funding from the Park Foundation.

The project, titled Building for Energy Efficiency: Developing New-Construction Standards for Ithaca, aims to increase energy efficiency in new construction and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while encouraging broad representation in the process to avoid negative social impacts. Further, the project will encourage the City and Town of Ithaca to lead the community by example with their sustainability efforts. The heart of the project is a feasibility study and associated social impact study, and the creation and adoption of the ensuing green building standard and policy tools that the City and Town can use to increase the efficiency and sustainability of new buildings. The full set of project activities and deliverables are described here: Grant awards will be announced this fall.

This article gives a brief taste of two municipal projects addressing energy use in our built environment. Stay tuned for more as the City and Town strive to meet their goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Nick Goldsmith is the Sustainability Coordinator for both the Town of Ithaca and the City of Ithaca. To stay up to date on local sustainability news and events, sign up for the monthly electronic Ithaca Sustainability newsletter at, or contact Nick at or 607-273-1721.


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