Hillsboro, Oregon: Charting a Sustainable Course through Collaboration

March 17, 2021 | By: Anthony Roy

The City of Hillsboro, Oregon is home to the largest mixed-use, master-planned community in the state’s history. Currently under construction, the South Hillsboro community is unique in both its scale and complexity. When fully built over the next decade, South Hillsboro will boast 8,000 single and multifamily residences housing as many as 20,000 people spread across three unique districts.

Because of its tremendous footprint, Hillsboro’s community planners invested considerable time and attention to the form and connectivity of this future community. Sustainability was an early and important design consideration and one of the three original pillars of the South Hillsboro community plan was “green” (along with “connected” and “complete”). This focus on sustainable design was particularly reflected in the consideration of how residents could access healthy recreation, sustainable transportation options, and natural areas. The community plan also contained a vision that the community be a “state-of-the-art green development”.
aerial view of SoHi

The High Performance Building Partnership

This overarching vision for sustainable design introduced an opportunity for the City of Hillsboro to work with community stakeholders and development teams in a collaborative effort to define what that vision meant in practice and to outline practical, achievable ways to achieve this outcome. Hillsboro city staff created and facilitated a partnership with local organizations to assist in supporting the numerous development teams in achieving the overall community design goals. This city-driven collaboration - called the South Hillsboro High Performance Building Partnership - provides guidance, technical support, and financial benefits to the South Hillsboro building teams. As a result, homes and apartments being built in South Hillsboro are meeting higher energy and sustainability standards. 
SoHi Master Plan
The South Hillsboro High Performance Building Partnership was officially formed in 2016 to provide support services and incentives to developers and builders to spur high-performance development in the South Hillsboro community development. The South Hillsboro High-Performance Building Partnership includes a range of non-profit, government, and utility entities, with city staff playing a lead role in coordinating and advancing the sustainable aspects of the South Hillsboro development.
SoHi Sign
The High Performance Building Partnership conducted outreach to the various South Hillsboro development teams and began a dialogue focused on how to deliver energy smart homes and buildings at South Hillsboro. Commitments by development teams to integrate certain energy-related performance standards or approaches within their community resulted in trade-offs related to density increases, design flexibility, and open space requirement reductions.

Overall Community Impact

The neighborhoods that make up South Hillsboro now have a range of agreed upon energy efficiency and/or green building standards that have been outlined by each community developer and passed on to individual builders. The results from the planning work of the High Performance Building Partnership have become tangible and documented. Each one of the 744 homes built to-date in South Hillsboro has greatly exceeded the state-mandated energy efficiency requirements. All of the homes at South Hillsboro were verified by the Energy Trust of Oregon, one of the key High Performance Building Partnership members, as delivering an average of 25% energy savings when compared to typical Oregon homes. In addition, most homes will be solar ready and some homes will have space reserved for a future battery storage system. Earth Advantage’s new homes certification team is also working closely with many of the builders at South Hillsboro, including leading builders who regularly achieve over 40% energy savings and zero energy ready certification.

When the High Performance Building Partnership was first being created in early 2015, the partnering organizations aspired to create the conditions for innovative construction at South Hillsboro that would influence how the community evolved over time and influence building practices in other locations. At that time, zero energy home construction was generally being produced by small custom home builders in a handful of projects sprinkled throughout the state. The High Performance Building Partnership hoped to amplify that trend and to mainstream zero energy construction among the larger, speculative building companies at South Hillsboro. By helping South Hillsboro developers establish minimum performance standards that went beyond the baseline Oregon building codes, the Partnership aspired to spark market-based incentives for builders to differentiate the performance of their homes. Zero energy construction and zero energy “ready” construction is now occurring at South Hillsboro, achieving that early goal of the South Hillsboro High Performance Building Partnership. To date, the high performance building standards at South Hillsboro is responsible for over 2,000,000 pounds of avoided carbon emissions. At this rate, when South Hillsboro is fully built out, the estimated annual savings should conservatively reach $2.5 million in homeowner utility costs and 14,000 tons of avoided carbon emissions.

While smaller, boutique communities across the country are setting sustainable development standards, South Hillsboro is unique in its scale and because city staff were active in seeking non-regulatory means to encourage larger national and regional development and building teams to set higher environmental thresholds. The work of city of Hillsboro staff in forming, facilitating, and directing the South Hillsboro High Performance Building Partnership provided early signals to developers at South Hillsboro that sustainability was a key goal. Developers were provided with technical resources and guidance from the Partnership to help guide design standards that could be met by the market but which also set the bar higher than a typical community. The achievements of leading South Hillsboro builders will help to continue to raise the bar on energy performance as other builders integrate those new technologies and concepts into their standard building processes.

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