Passive House grows in the United States

Passive House construction is my personal favorite form of green building. The reasoning is simple — it offers maximum energy savings with the lowest upfront premium. Building or renovating to the Passive House standard is well proven throughout the world and it has developed a solid framework in the United States.

Through my work with UltimateAir, I have had the honor to work on many Passive projects. These include multi-family developments, University Dormitories, residential homes, and commercial buildings. I have personally witnessed these buildings obtain a 60%-80% reduction in their energy use. While also offering residents healthier interior air, comfortable living environments, and superior building longevity.

The idea behind Passive House is actually quite simple. Heavily insulate the walls, foundation, and roof. Air seal the home to decrease energy loss and improve comfort. Eliminate “thermal bridging” by incorporating a non-breaking blanket of insulation. Minimize the size of the heating/cooling system for maximum efficiency. Incorporate an energy recovery ventilator to continuously flush the home with fresh air.

Athens, OH Passive Inspired duplex 2018
Newly completed Passive Inspired duplex located in Athens, OH. Photo Credit: Sustainable Path — Jason & Jeremy Morosko

Most people I talk to about Passive, automatically jump to the conclusion that Passive House is not affordable. They assume that the cost of a low energy, healthy, and comfortable home is just far out of reach. In my experience this is not the case at all!

When designing the project upfront with Passive House aspects in mind….the added cost over standard construction tends to fall between 1%-8% over a standard “code” construction project. When you factor in an electric bill that is possibly 70% lower — this upfront premium is usually profitable or at a minimum…break even.

The key to designing a high performance home for little extra cost is to accept the Passive House standard as a design principle from the beginning. Do not design a house and THEN try to add Passive House features. Rather, design a Passive House from the beginning and within the constraints of your budget.


Example:

Customer 1: “I need a 4 bedroom house, with an open concept living/dining/kitchen, lots of natural light, and beautiful kitchen countertops. My budget is $180,000.”

This can be done!

Customer 1: I need a 4 bedroom house, with an open concept living/dining/kitchen, lots of natural light, and beautiful kitchen countertops. It also needs to be built to the Passive House standard. My budget is $180,000.”

This can be done!


It’s all about accepting high performance into your design criteria and moving forward accordingly. Just like any other aspect of building a home within a budget…

Working with Passive House builders and architects for the last 6 years has allowed me to see how the market is changing and growing. In 2018, we saw the largest amount of growth coming from New York.

The City of new York created a goal of reaching an 80% carbon reduction from 2005 levels by 2050. Buildings account for 75% of the energy used in NYC and therefore efficient buildings will be key to meeting this goal. NYC Mayor De Blasio has even pointed to the Passive House standard as one of the few energy standards capable of delivering the needed results.

As the NYC construction market continues to adopt Passive House into its future, they will require a roadmap for tradespeople education, product suppliers, architect education, and building operation. New York can look to the success of Brussels, Belgium to help understand how to make the shift. Brussels began by awarding $36 million to a hundreds of energy efficient projects and by 2010 they created a version of the PH standard for all public works projects. By 2015, all new or heavily renovated project must meet Brussel’s passive criteria.


List of my favorite New York organizations who are leading the charge!

  • NYSERDA (Trade Organization)
    • The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has always pushed for energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. They are a fantastic resource for advancing the innovative solutions needed to improve the New York building culture, economy, and environment.
  • New York Passive House (Trade Organization)
    • NYPH is the go-to resource for connecting Passive House resources with professionals. This is the group responsible for educating, assisting, and growing the NY Passive House movement.
  • Curtis + Ginsberg Architects LLP (Architect)
    • Designing a Multi-Family Passive House project can be difficult at times. Especially when you are one of the first firms to try it! C+GA is a great firm who now has real experience building a large Passive House project. Check out their Morris II Passive House apartment building.
  • The Bluestone Organization (Developer)
    • Their name has always been a staple in the New York housing sector; however, now the Bluestone Organization has been helping to lead the way with their recent Beach Green project in Roackaway, NY. They are a third generation family business that was founded in 1927.
  • King + King Architects (Architect)
    • These guys have quite an operation located in Syracuse, NY. They have been making headway into the Passive House market and offer a truly one of a kind experience for people wishing to build sustainably. I would recommend talking with Tom King, who is a certified Passive House Architect and experienced practitioner.
  • Levy Partnership (Developer)
    • They provide assistance for building design, research, project management etc. The team at Levy has jumped onto the Passive House bandwagon in New York is has a great staff of experiences PH Advocates. They have worked on everything from Habitat for Humanity projects to large scale affordable multi-family construction — all while staying true to the Passive methodology.
  • Steven Winters Associates (Consultant)
    • If you’ve worked on a Passive House in New York — you’ve probably heard of SWA. This team of consultants/architects is setting the standard for how projects can achieve high energy performance in the commercial, multifamily, and residential sectors.
  • Threshold Builders (Modular Builder)
    • Focused on creating Passive House and Net-Zero homes that are practical, beautiful, healthy, and within budget. They do great work in the Hudson Valley.
  • ERASE40 (Education & Advocacy)
    • A newer outfit with tons of industry experience. These guys are working to establish, evidence-based process to speed up the adoption of zero/low emission builders. Their program is based around behavioral science and has attracted the participation of key industry advocates (including me!).
  • 475 High Performance Building Supply (Product Supply)
    • Over the past decade there have been few suppliers who could/would offer some of the unique and specific products that are required for meeting the Passive House standard. Ken Levenson and the team at 475 have always been on the cutting edge or high performance building technology.

 

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