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Guides and Case Studies for Cold and Very Cold Climates

Map of the Cold & Very Cold Zones of the United States. The far tips of North Dakota, Maine, and southern Alaska are shown as Very Cold. The northern half of the United States is shown as Cold.The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Building America program has developed a best practice guide and case studies to help builders improve whole-house energy performance in homes found in cold and very cold climates.

Best Practice Guide

New Construction Case Studies

Image of a new house.

See examples of whole-house solutions for new homes throughout the U.S. cold and very cold climate zones.








Project: Burlingame Ranch Phase I — Aspen
Builder: Shaw Construction
Profile: This builder worked with Building Science Corporation to design affordable HERS-54 townhouses with central solar radiator space heating, PV, R-28 closed-cell spray foam under slab and R-26 in advanced framed walls, and rigid polyiso on inside of basement walls.

Project: The ArtiZEN Plan — Denver
Builder: New Town Builders
Profile: The Grand Winner in the Production Builder category of the 2014 Housing Innovation Awards, this builder plans to convert all of its product lines to DOE Zero Energy Ready Home construction by the end of 2015. This home achieves HERS 38 without PV and HERS -3 with 8.0 kw of PV.

Project: The Hale Plan — Denver
Builder: New Town Builders
Profile: All homes in the Stapleton community must be ENERGY STAR certified; New Town Builders has announced that it will build 250–300 new homes over the next 7–10 years, all of which will be Challenge Homes.

Project: New Town Builders' Power of Zero Energy Center — Denver
Builder: New Town Builders
Profile: To attract a wide range of potential home buyers to its energy efficient homes, New Town Builders created a "Power of Zero Energy Center" linked to its model home in the Stapleton community of Denver


Project: Trolle Residence - Danbury
Builder: BPC Green Builders
Profile:  The builder of this 1,650-ft2 cabin won a Custom Home honor in the 2014 Housing Innovations Awards. The home meets Passive House Standards with 5.5-in. of foil-faced polysiocyanurate foam boards lining the outside walls, R-55 of rigid EPS foam under the slab, R-86 of blown cellulose in the attic, triple-pane windows, and a single ductless heat pump to heat and cool the entire home.

Project: Singer Village — Derby
Builder: Brookside Development
Profile: This DOE Zero Energy Ready Home is one of a development of seven two-story homes that garnered a Production Builder award in the 2014 Housing Innovation Awards..Exceptional construction quality allowed the home to achieve a HERS score of 45 without PV, or HERS 26 with a 7-kW PV system included.

Project: Hamilton Way — Farmington
Builder: Nelson Construction
Profile: The builder worked with Building Science Corporation to design ten HERS 53 homes with ICF foundations, foam-sheathed above-grade walls, and high-efficiency furnaces with fresh air intake and jump ducts.

Project: Candlewood Hills Rebuild — New Fairfield
Builder: BPC Green Builders
Profile: This LEED Platinum home was built on the site of a 60-year-old bungalow that was demolished. It boasts views of Candlewood Lake, a great deal of daylight, and projected annual energy savings of almost $3,000.

Project: Preferred Builders — Old Greenwich
Builder: Preferred Builders
Profile: The first DOE Challenge Home built in New England features cool-roof shingles, HERS 20–42, and walls densely packed with blown fiberglass.

Project: The Performance House — Old Greenwich
Builder: Preferred Builders
Profile: This case study describes the philosophy and science behind the development of this high-performance test house.


Project: Illinois First Challenge Home — Downers Grove
Builder: Weiss Building & Development, LLC
Profile: This single-family home built in a peat bog has underground storage tanks and drainage tanks, blown fiberglass insulation, coated rigid polyisocyanurate, and flashing.

Project: School Street Homes — Libertyville
Builder: StreetScape Development, LLC
Profile: These single-family, HERS 45 homes incorporate 2 × 6 wood framed walls with R-20 open cell spray insulation and OSB.

Project: Chicagoland's First Certified Passive House — River Forest
Builder: Weiss Building & Development, LLC
Profile: This single-family, HERS 27 home incorporates insulated concrete form walls and polyisocyanurate rigid insulation.


Project: Near Zero Maine II Home — Vassalboro
Builder: Thomas Fullman
Profile: This single-family Challenge Home was built at low cost with a ductless heatpump, ERV, PV on detached garage, solar water heater, double walls, and vapor retarder air barrier.


Project: MassDevelopment Devens Green Zero-Energy Community Custom Home — Devens
Builder: Transformations, Inc.
Profile: This single-family home features a superinsulated shell with 12-inch double walls filled with open cell spray foam, as well as R-5 triple-pane windows.

Project: MassDevelopment Devens Green Zero-Energy Community Production Home — Devens
Builder: Transformations, Inc.
Profile: New houses in three developments incorporate specific assemblies and specifications to achieve a 44.9% reduction in energy use compared with a home built to the 2009 International Residential Code.

Project: Transformations, Inc. Net Zero Energy Communities — Devens, Easthampton, Townsend
Builder: Transformations, Inc.
Profile: In 2009, Transformations, Inc. partnered with the Building Science Corporation team to build new net zero energy houses in three developments in Massachusetts that achieve a 45% reduction in energy use compared to 2009 International Residential Code.

Project: Wisdom Way Solar Village — Greenfield
Builder: Rural Development, Inc.
Profile: This builder worked with Consortium for Advanced Residential Buildings to design affordable HERS-8 homes (60 w/o PV), with double-stud walls heavy insulation, low-load sealed-combustion gas space heaters, triple-pane windows, solar water heating, and PV.

Project: Cold Climate Market-Rate Townhomes Targeting HERS Index of 40 — Harvard
Builder: Metric Construction
Profile: Twelve townhomes constructed at a decommissioned army base incorporated efficiency upgrades to achieve a HERS Index score of 41 before adding renewables.


Project: 2014 Model Home — Midland
Builder: Cobblestone Homes
Profile:  This builder's first DOE Zero Energy Ready Home won a Custom Builder award in the 2014 Housing Innovation Awards, scored HERS 49 without PV or HERS 44 with 1.4 kW of PV, and served as a prototype and energy efficiency demonstration model while performance testing was conducted.

Project: Affordable Cold Climate Infill Housing with Hybrid Insulation Approach — Wyandotte
Builder: Various local homebuilders
Profile: The City of Wyandotte started a construction program to engage local builders in constructing energy-efficient homes in existing neighborhoods for less than $100/ft2.


Project: Las Vegas Division, Pulte Homes — Las Vegas
Builder: Pulte Homes
Profile:  The builder teamed with Building Science Corporation to design HERS-54 homes with high-efficiency HVAC with ducts in conditioned space, jump ducts, and a fresh air intake; advanced framed walls; low-e windows; and PV roof tiles.

New York

Project: Eco-Village — Ithaca
Builder: AquaZephyr
Profile: This two-story, 1,664 ft2.home is one of 17 single-family and four duplex homes built as part of an energy-efficient cooperative. Winner in the Production Builder category of the 2014 Housing Innovation Awards, the home achieves a HERS 56 without PV and HERS 15 with 4 kw of PV.

Project: Holly Creek Lane — Ithaca
Builder: Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services
Profile: Eleven new townhomes comply with EPA's airPLUS criteria and use EPA WaterSense-qualifying features. Foundation walls are insulated on the exterior with XPS insulation. Non-shared walls use wall panels that were produced offsite.

Project: The Preserve — New Paltz
Builder: Greenhill Contracting
Profile: These super-insulated homes all have R-22 insulated concrete form walls, R-20 closed-cell spray form under the slab, ground source heat pump, tight air sealing, and more—helping this buider to win a Production Builder award in the 2014 Housing Innovation Awards.

Project: Ferguson Design and Construction - Sagaponack 
Builder: Ferguson Design and Construction
Profile: This DOE Challenge Home scored HERS 43 without PV and features R-25 double-stud walls, a hydro air system with 91% efficient boiler for forced air and radiant floor heat, and 100% LED lights.

Project: Challenges of Achieving 2012 IECC Air Sealing Requirements in Multifamily Dwellings - Upstate New York
Builder: LECESSE Construction Company, Housing Visions
Profile:  In this project, the Consortium for Advanced Residential Buildings team sought to create a well-documented design and implementation strategy for air sealing in low-rise multifamily buildings that would assist in compliance with new building infiltration requirements of the 2012 IECC.


Project: East Liberty - Pittsburgh
Builder: S&A Homes
Profile: This builder worked with IBACOS to design urban infill HERS-51 homes with compact duct layout in conditioned space, foam insulated precast concrete foundations, high-efficiency HVAC, and tankless water heaters

Project: Evaluating Through-Wall Air Transfer Fans - Pittsburgh
Profile: This project assessed a strategy for providing conditioned air to rooms when the doors were close and measured data—for the first time—for the frequency of potential thermal discomfort the occupants may experience when using this strategy.

Rhode Island

Project: Church Community and Housing Corporation — Charlestown
Builder: Caldwell and Johnson
Profile: This DOE Zero Energy Ready Home garnered an Affordable Builder award in the 2014 Housing Innovation Awards, for its highly insulated construction, minisplit heat pump and water heater, and triple pane windows.

Project: Edies Lane House — Exeter
Builder: Caldwell and Johnson
Profile: This house should save its owners $600 per year over the 2009 IECC with the help of efficiency measures such as walls with OSB sheathing and R-13 open cell spray foam insulation.


Project: Garbett's Net Zero-Energy Home at Rosecrest — Herriman
Builder: Garbett Homes
Profile: As the first net zero-energy production home certified in Utah, this house incorporates two 94% efficient tankless water heaters and two roof-mounted solar panels that preheat the home's water supply.

Existing Homes Case Studies

Image of a retrofitted multifamily building.

See examples of whole-house solutions for existing homes throughout the U.S. cold and very cold climate zones.







Project: Evaluation of a Low-Rise Multifamily Retrofit — Boulder
Building Component: Building envelope, lighting, appliances, water conservation
Profile: A 37-unit apartment complex underwent multiple energy retrofit measures, including attic and wall insulation, low-e windows, and energy-efficient appliances, to comply with the Boulder SmartRegs Ordinance.


Project: Evaluation of Missed Energy Saving Opportunity Based on Illinois Home Performance Program Field Data: Homeowner Selected Upgrades vs. Cost-Optimized Solutions - Chicago
Building Component: Envelope
Profile: Partnership for Advanced Residential Retrofit team compared measure packages installed during 800 Illinois Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® residential retrofits to those recommended as cost-optimal by Building Energy Optimization (BEopt) modeling software.


Project: Multifamily Individual Heating and Ventilation Systems — Lawrence
Builder: Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity
Profile: The conversion of an older Massachusetts building into condominiums illustrates a safe, durable, and cost-effective solution for heating and ventilation systems in multifamily buildings.

Project: National Grid Deep Energy Retrofit Pilot - Massachusetts and Rhode Island
Builder: Various
Profile: Building Science Corporation developed a package of high-efficiency measures for retrofit of 42 homes sponsored by National Grid, resulting in energy use of approximately 40% below the Northeast regional average.

New York

Project: Islip Housing Authority Energy Efficiency Turnover Protocols — Islip
Builder: Islip Housing Authority
Profile: In this project, the ARIES Collaborative worked with two public housing authorities (PHA) to develop packages of energy efficiency retrofit measures the PHAs can cost effectively implement at the time when units are refurbished between occupancies.


Project: Retrofit of 1915 Home — Dayton
Builder: Homeowner
Profile: In this project, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory audited a historic home for an energy retrofit, leaving the diesel boiler in place, but adding a new SEER 16, HSPF 9.4 ductless heat pump with four inside heads, cutting energy costs more than $2,000/year.

You may also find case studies and guides that work across all climates on the All Climates page.

For additional, updated information on hundreds of building science topics that can help you build or retrofit to the most recent high-performance construction criteria, including the latest version of ENERGY STAR and the DOE Challenge Home requirements, see the Building America Solution Center.