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Sustainable Pittsburgh

307 Fourth Avenue, Suite 1500
Pittsburgh, PA

Tag Archive: housing

  • Home Energy Efficiency Fair

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    Do you struggle to keep your home warm in the winter? Do you find yourself dreading high energy bills in the colder months? Are you ready to learn more and finally combat the challenges of an inefficient home.

    Conservation Consultants, Inc. has partnered with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy in organizing its 3rd Annual Energy Efficiency Fair, to be held on February 9, from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m., at the Frick Environmental Center. Experts will be on hand to answer homeowner questions. Equipment and materials used in home efficiency improvements will be on display. You may even be quizzed on your building science prowess. The event is kid friendly, and participants can hope to win a free energy audit ($400 value) in a raffle.

  • C-PACE Seminar: Committee on the Environment

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    C-PACE is a financing tool for local governments to help facilitate energy efficiency and clean energy loans. This is the second session in a series and will focus on the technical aspects of the program – how loans are accessed and administered; the legal considerations for the program; and what role architects and developers have during the process. A case study will be presented by a developer who has used C-PACE on several projects.


  • Leaders and Lead: Creating Lead-safe Municipalities

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    Come learn how municipalities and elected officials can lead the charge to protect your community from lead!

    Join Lead Safe Allegheny County Coalition for an inspiring morning that can set your municipality apart:

    • Ordinances that are fiscally friendly
    • Protect your community’s most valuable asset: children
    • Proactive lead inspection programs and rental registries
    • Costs associated with regulations; resources available for testing and remediation
    • Implementing lead-safe demo practices

    Plus, a real world case study featuring: Len Merritt, Manager of Code Enforcement, City of Rochester

    Check in / Breakfast — 9:30am

    Speakers / Discussion — 10:00 to Noon

  • Landlords and Lead – Your Rights and Responsibilities

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    Join us to learn what every landlord needs to know about lead: rules and regulations, best practices from landlords, lead-safe practices for remediation. These topics will be covered by experts in the field and there will be an opportunity to address questions/concerns with a panel of your peers!

    This event is being held in recognition of National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week and under the priorities creating public awareness around the impacts of lead on our communities.

    Registration/Breakfast – 8:30 am

    Program, Panel, Q&A – 9:00 am

    Breakfast is provided and parking is free! For more information, call 412-404-2872.

  • Deconstruction and Reuse 2019 Conference

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    Deconstruction and Reuse 2019 is the only national conference focused on how construction and demolition waste can be turned into economic opportunities. With dozens of speakers ranging from community development, architecture, advocacy, reuse operations and deconstruction, there is a place for you!

  • October Events Roundup

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    October was an exciting month for Sustainable Pittsburgh, full of opportunities to learn and connect with leaders, experts, and motivated community members! Below are highlights from some events in which SP engaged:

    PML Summit
    October 5-6, 2018

    The 119th annual summit of the Pennsylvania Municipal League (PML) was held in Cranberry Township. Elected and appointed officials from across the state gathered to connect and network with colleagues, attend informative and educational sessions, discuss issues facing the Commonwealth’s municipalities, share resources and best practices, establish legislative policy, and elect officers and members of the Board of Directors for the coming year. A new organizational logo and tagline, “Strength Through Engagement,” were announced; a new website will follow in early 2019. A summary video of the day can be found here.

    Additionally, Jim Price, Sustainable Community Manager at Sustainable Pittsburgh, held an open workshop in the morning to discuss the Sustainable PA Community Certification with interested attendees, and presented an educational session in the afternoon with planners from the City of Pittsburgh on how municipalities can use the EcoDistricts protocol for community development.

    North American Passive House Network Conference
    October 17-21, 2018

    The 2018 annual conference and expo for the North American Passive House Network was in Pittsburgh at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where sessions included topics such as policy and zoning, social equity, health and wellness, and technological innovations. Passive House principles can play a pivotal role in increasing sustainability for projects and communities by reducing energy demands and costs, increasing indoor air quality and occupant comfort, and providing safe, engaging spaces across a range of housing types and uses.

    Rail~Volution Conference
    October 21-24, 2018

    Rail~Volution’s theme, “Building Livable Communities with Transit,” was explored in depth during the annual conference, this year at the Wyndham Grand in Pittsburgh. The conference discussed the links between land use, transit, and development through four days of sessions and mobile workshops, highlighting the transit infrastructure and development that currently exists, the work being done to advance both technology and equity, and inspiring stories of successes across North America. Local leaders and employees told Pittsburgh’s story and hopes for a more equitable future, while experts from dozens of cities shared their knowledge and lessons learned.

  • State College Borough Achieves Platinum in Sustainable Community Certification

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    Kudos to State College Borough! They have earned Platinum Certification, currently the highest performance level in the Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification program. The Borough was previously recognized at the Gold level of certification for meeting the program’s rigorous performance criteria. State College Borough has had a longstanding commitment to sustainability in operations, management, and provision of public services through numerous innovative actions.

    As a testament to their understanding of the importance of sustainability as a governance strategy, State College Borough created a formal Sustainability Committee, supported by the Borough Council and management, and it guides their municipal work. This committee laudably defines sustainability as “using best practices to create lasting environmental, economic, societal and fiscal vitality as part of State College’s overall mission to enhance the quality of life by fostering a safe, vibrant, diverse and sustainable community; by providing quality, innovative, cost-effective services; and by allocating resources efficiently with professionalism, integrity, transparency and accountability.”

    Initiatives that are ongoing in State College (far too numerous to list in their entirety) include:

    “The mayor and borough council members have been strong advocates for sustainability, and as a result, State College has a long history of focusing on sustainability,” Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said. “Being recognized as a Platinum Certified Community by the Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification program shows that we’ve made measurable strides towards our sustainability goals. We are honored to be recognized by our peers as a leading community in this field.”

    The Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification is intended to bring recognition to municipalities that are implementing the policies and practices of sustainability to advance community and regional prosperity. Sustainable Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania Municipal League are proud to have State College represented in the top tier of sustainable communities.

    View details about State College Borough’s certification performance.

  • The High Cost of Energy: How a Community Can Protect their Most Vulnerable Residents

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    People living at or below the poverty line are more likely to live in older housing with leaky windows and doors, and poorly insulated walls that waste energy, saddling them with much higher energy costs than those in upper income brackets.  There are several ways that municipalities and community-based organizations can help mitigate this challenge.  Options include having well-crafted and enforced occupancy regulations and helping to connect those in need to energy efficiency assistance programs.  Serving in this role advances a community’s sustainable development by improving the lives of residents, the environment, and the local economy.

    Preventing housing from falling into disrepair can solve the problem of unreasonably high energy costs before it becomes one.  Well managed and institutionalized code enforcement is an essential first step.  Adopting and effectively enforcing the International Property Maintenance Code, as suggested in the “Sustainable Neighborhoods” section of the Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification, can prevent poorly heated and/or ventilated spaces from being rented to unsuspecting residents.  Community leaders may find homeowners on fixed or limited incomes need assistance to make their homes code compliant or more energy efficient.

    Working with and connecting residents to organizations like Conservation Consultants Inc. (CCI), Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, and Habitat for Humanity can benefit struggling low income homeowners with energy efficiency upgrades.  In addition, both major regional electric utilities, Duquesne Light and First Energy (Penelec, Penn Power, and West Penn Power), have programs that can offset the costs of energy upgrades.  As a stopgap measure, federal programs such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), can provide relief to families living in homes that may be at risk of an outage.  Having these resources available through a community newsletter, website, knowledgeable staff, and community-sponsored events can make a world of difference.

    By administering excellent code enforcement and serving as the conduit to publicly available energy efficiency programs, conscientious leaders can conserve energy, mitigate carbon emissions and protect their community’s most vulnerable residents.  In addition, reducing energy consumption community-wide serves everyone by improving public health with improved air quality and ensuring residents have more income to spend in the local community.  For information on how to incorporate these or other community sustainability recommendations please visit the Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification, reference the Library of Sustainable Municipal Policies and Practices, or contact Jim Price at

  • Well Planned for “Tiny Homes” Can Provide Huge Benefits

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    Tiny homes can be a useful asset when working to create a more sustainable community.  They use less energy, less space and are often more affordable than their more conventional counterparts.  When tiny homes are incorporated into a larger municipal land use plan they can help bridge the housing gap for those seeking their first home, retiring to their last, or provide options for our most vulnerable populations.

    The need for affordable housing, combined with a concern for the environment and a newfound desire for minimalist living, is driving the demand for smaller housing units.  The smallest, aptly nicknamed “tiny homes”, is a housing style now so popular it is being referred to as a movement.  These dainty dwellings, typically between 150 and 500 square feet, can be split into two broad categories: those built on a movable wheeled chassis, much like a mobile home or towable RV, and those built on fixed foundations like a typical single-family home.  Both types of tiny homes bring significant environmental and social equity benefits, but they also present unique challenges for communities looking to encourage them.

    The challenges to permitting tiny homes include dealing with building code minimums if it is a fixed foundation and zoning codes for both the fixed and mobile tiny homes.  An updated zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan that effectively regulates and incentivizes tiny homes can help smooth the process.  It can also assist in putting challenging vacant lots back into productive use and provide needed affordable housing for vulnerable residents.  It is not ideal to encourage tiny homes as principal uses on large and medium sized lots that would serve to decrease neighborhood housing density and affordability.  Using zoning ordinances to accommodate a full range of housing opportunities, including different sizes, densities, prices, and tenures throughout the community can serve to attract residents.  Establishing zoning guidelines such as district with smaller lot sizes and square footage minimums for tiny homes with permanent foundations can incentivize building in older established neighborhoods or more densely in newer communities.

    Utilizing innovative financing and land use tools in combination with tiny homes can create opportunities.  For example, a land trust model may allow a tiny home development permanently affordable.  The land trust could preserve open space for recreation and community engagement, and provide low income residents with a sense of ownership.  Streamlining the permitting process for appropriately sized lots can offer economical tiny house options for prospective home owners.

    Environmentally, a tiny home has a much smaller and more ecologically friendly carbon footprint.  According to Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, 17.5 percent of the solid waste in the Commonwealth’s municipal waste stream is construction related.  Building a tiny home takes less than half of a single logging truck to build, while a typical single family residential house requires as many as seven logging trucks to construct.  A tiny home also needs less fuel to transport material to the site.  Once the tiny home is built, it generates as little as 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, compared to the average single-family home, which produces 28,000 pounds annually!

    According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, in 1960 the median size of a new house was 1,289 square feet.  By 2015 the median house was more than double that size with the average being 2,687 square feet.  During this same period, the average household size went from 3.33 members to less than 2.5 members.  Less people are now occupying over twice the space of previous generations.  For families or individuals with more disposable income, a compelling message is that owners can invest in quality and design and downsize or fit into the “right size” based on their needs.  This also means the owners would have more income to spend in the community’s local economy.

    The moveable versions of tiny homes, often more affordable, can be easily located near temporary or remote jobs sites, recreational facilities (such as RV or mobile home parks), or be used as temporary accessory-use homes, such as a mother-in-law cottage.  Allowing their temporary use on vacant lots in transitional neighborhoods could be a solution for abandoned properties that are seriously tax delinquent.  Updated zoning ordinances and comprehensive plans with innovative incentives can help foster a more affordable and environmentally sound future by using smaller adequately sized housing units.