Geothermal Medford House Named Nation’s Top Zero Energy-Ready Home in 2021


January 12, 2022 (Deer Park, NY) – United Way of Long Island has won first place nationwide in a prestigious competition in residential energy efficiency design.  The Deer Park-based nonprofit took the Grand Award in affordable housing for the design and construction of housing for veterans located in Medford at the 2021 U.S. Department of Energy’s nationwide Housing Innovation Awards. The national competition recognizes innovation in construction of high-performance Zero Energy Ready Homes in various categories.

The property, once an eyesore, is now the site of a nearly 2,000-square-foot house that has been named one of the nation’s best examples of energy efficiency.  This is the seventh residence that the organization has been recognized for by the DOE, but the first to be designed to operate on geothermal energy.  

The nonprofit was given the award in Denver at the 2021 Housing Innovation Awards ceremony held as part of the Energy & Environmental Building Alliance High Performance Home Summit. Twenty-nine finalists were named along with six winners. United Way of Long Island, the only New York entity to be a finalist, was declared the winner among quarterfinalists including organizations ranging from Florida to Washington state.

“The Medford house is an example of sustainable, smart building that can reduce or even eliminate utility bills for residents,” said Theresa A. Regnante, President and CEO of United Way of Long Island. “It also provides much needed housing for veterans who served our country. We aren’t just building energy-efficient housing; we’re helping build a brighter future for those living in the home and the region.”

United Way as part of its far-reaching housing initiatives on Long Island builds Zero Energy Ready Homes using advanced technology to provide greater energy efficiency, leaving residents with low to no utility costs. These high-performance homes exceed state and federal mandates for residential construction, known as “code plus,” with advanced HVAC systems, tight and weatherproof building enclosures and much more. 

Rick Wertheim, United Way’s Senior Vice President of Housing and Green Initiatives said, “The award acknowledges the hard work and effort that United Way puts into building next generation homes that provide a better living environment.”  He added, “It’s healthier, more comfortable, durable, safer and energy-efficient than a typical residential home.”


“The U.S. Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home program, and partners like United Way of Long Island, are proving that high-performance, healthy, efficient homes can help to solve the problem of housing affordability across the country,” states Sam Bowles, Communications Manager, U.S. DOE Zero Energy Ready Home Program.  “Not only are these homes able to be constructed at an affordable price, the high performance features and third-party verified construction features mean they are affordable to live in.  Low- to no-energy bills and reduced maintenance and repair costs contribute to a truly affordable home and lower total cost of ownership.”    

Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm, who announced the winners, called these high-performance homes part of “the boldest climate agenda in our nation’s history.”
“Right now, our buildings use roughly 40% of the nation’s energy, 75% of its electricity, and account for a little over a third of our carbon emissions, “she said at the awards. “Through energy efficiency improvements, we can eliminate waste, lower our bills, reduce pollution, make people healthier, and create tens of thousands of jobs.”

United Way of Long Island has earned a place as a national leader in energy efficient residential construction, winning first place for two houses in East Patchogue, one in Patchogue, one in Huntington Station and one in Coram. It also built Zero Energy houses in locations across Long Island such as Hampton Bays, Long Beach, Hempstead, Lindenhurst, Floral Park, Wyandanch, Riverhead, Port Jefferson Station, Brentwood, Selden, Centereach and Ronkonkoma.

2021 Award Winning Geothermal Home

The 1,936-square-foot Medford house, completed in March, includes four-bedrooms, two-baths and a wide range of energy-saving features. It was built with triple-pane windows, a gable roof and a vented attic, as well as an insulated basement and air sealing.  Energy-saving features include geothermal energy, LED lighting with motion and daylight sensors, ENERGY STAR dishwasher, clothes washer and refrigerator, a smart internet-connected thermostat for HVAC and other features.

It also is part of Suffolk County’s Housing our Heroes program in which Suffolk County provided six properties that United Way transformed into housing for homeless veterans. The Medford housing is a collaboration between the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA), National Grid and United Way. NYSERDA and National Grid donated the equipment and the geothermal loop and installation.

Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source in which a deep hole is drilled, a pipe is installed and filled with fluid used to capture and carry heated energy to heat pumps that produce heat in the winter and cooling in the summer. While the geothermal system and installation were donated, geothermal typically add cost to construction. It is possible to amortize costs for projects and produce a net overall gain. 

“When you use certain renewable technology, they produce a net benefit over the life cycle of the house and for people who move into it for the future,” Wertheim said. “When people evaluate something by what it costs to get it, that’s not a full evaluation and doesn’t tell the full story.”

The house has superior indoor air quality, due to state-of-the-art filtration mechanisms that manage moisture and indoor air particulates, mitigate pollution and monitor and regulate relative humidity. This keeps relative humidity levels low in the summer and increases humidity in the winter, so residents don’t have dry skin and health conditions attributed to low indoor air humidity.

The Net Zero or Zero Energy Ready component means the house was built “plug-and-play,” ready to accept and include renewable energy technologies for the life of home. This project was designed to accept solar panels on the roof and includes an electrical system ready to accept wiring and components for a solar array. 

Regnante said of the design, “We build every home with universal design features, which allow for aging in place.”  The housing was built so a resident using a wheelchair can operate light switches, located within reach, and with doors that accommodate the width. 

United Way Credentials

In addition to receiving an award on behalf of the United Way, Wertheim at the energy conference gave a presentation on high performance home workforce development. United Way of Long Island operates VetsBuild and YouthBuild and an unemployed worker training center, located a Deer Park. It also runs a 5,000-square-foot E3 (Energy Effficieny Education) SmartBuild Training Center funded by NYSERDA.  “It’s a state-of-the-art training facility to develop workforce training for high performance home building or green building, energy retrofits, weatherization and building science,” Wertheim said.

United Way managed the construction of the project during the pandemic, providing yet another challenge.  “It was a feat of perseverance to get the project done with the challenges of the last 18 months,” Wertheim said. 

To learn more about United Way of Long Island’s innovative award-winning homes, visit https://www.unitedwayli.org/award-winning-homes

About U.S. Department of Energy Housing Innovation Awards
Since 2013, The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Housing Innovation Awards have recognize innovation on the path to Zero Energy Ready Homes. Housing Innovation Award winners in 2021 were selected in six categories including custom buyer, custom spec, production, multifamily, attached and affordable homes. Only one Grand Award Winner was announced  in each category at the Housing Innovation Awards ceremony. For details about award winning homes over the years including information, photos and energy ratings, go to the Department of Energy and look at its Tour of Zero.