This Mass Timber Passivhaus Rental Building Is Perfect for Active Adults

This is how to push every treehugger button.

front facade of 79 King Street
79 King Street.


Northampton, Massachusetts, will soon be home to 79 King Street, a 70-unit "active adult" mass timber rental building built to Passivhaus standards.

Years ago, when I was writing about the baby boomer scene, I predicted the hot spots for retirees would be university towns, where you can find a good espresso, a second-run movie house, and probably a good book store. That's what David Fox, founder and CEO of Live Give Play is thinking. He is "targeting cities that once were a major train or river hub, and University cities that feature downtown cores developed before the automobile."

Why Northampton? It is home to Smith College, bike trails, restaurants, and theaters, and no doubt, you can get a good espresso. 

There is much for this baby boomer to love about this concept. The company stated: "With a mission to 'transform how older Americans live, with new buildings in walkable, connected communities,' Live Give Play has conceived a residential concept that supports healthy lifestyles (Live), community service (Give), and cultural engagement (Play) — all offered in an environmentally progressive structure and with attainable rents."

Live Give Play said its unique concept is based on three pillars:

  1. A market opportunity to serve baby boomers who want to live in vibrant, walkable communities but can't afford prime locations in America's large cities.
  2. A focus on energy-wise buildings and alternate mobility—shared electric cars, bicycling, and walking—crucial to slowing global warming and promoting healthy lifestyles.
  3. Elevating the purposeful lifestyles and intergenerational communities associated with college towns—a proven improvement over typical age-segregated communities built around golf courses.

Live Give Play

Fox's thesis noted, "Places with high walk scores liberate citizens, leading to less car dependence and lower transportation costs." He cited studies showing that retirees prefer neighborhoods with mixed uses, with stores and other businesses that are easy to walk to. Many older people are also healthier; he said that "the healthy living choices we made along the way are allowing us more time (years!!) to enjoy the spice of life, be it hiking and biking, dining out and going to a show, or giving back to the community by volunteering, mentoring, being positive citizens."

Side view of 79 King
79 King fits right into the neighborhood.


It's important to distinguish that 79 King Street is not a retirement home, but is a rental building designed with active older people in mind. This is an important distinction. Many developers are chasing the retirement home market, but that's not where the demographics are today when most baby boomers are still active adults. 

I have noted previously, "It turns out that baby boomers like downtowns for the same reasons the kids do: They can walk to stores and restaurants and don't have all their money tied up in mortgages and cars. They may not want to stay in their big suburban homes, but they don't want to hang around with old people in a retirement home."

This project is designed for that cohort. It will have electric vehicle charging, bike storage, and a shared electric car program. Even the retail space is being planned for active lifestyles: "Retail spaces on the ground level will be programmed to serve bicycling enthusiasts taking advantage of the adjacent trailhead."

Live Give Play probably won't put this in the marketing brochure, but its thesis also acknowledged that "the average man outlives his ability to drive by 7 years, the average woman by 10 years" and "walkable neighborhoods can be mobility enabling and health enhancing for millions." 

Baby boomers think of renovations and figuring out how to age in place. But all the data show that the first thing to go is the ability to drive ... long before the ability to walk. Instead, baby boomers should ask: What can I do to get out of this place and how will I get to the doctor or the grocery?" It won't be pretty when boomers lose their cars.

The Live Give Play team has also done the math and figured that "proceeds from selling a home can supply investment income greater than the rental costs of many apartments, while eliminating real estate taxes, maintenance costs, and higher heating bills." This is especially the case in a smaller community with lower land costs.

Fox summed it all up: "As people become empty-nesters, more and more are rejecting car-dependent, disconnected settings in homes that represent a large percentage of their net worth. By offering rentals in dynamic college communities, we are providing more affordable and improved lifestyles."

While some believe baby boomers don't care about the climate crisis because they'll be dead when the worst hits the fan, that's far from the truth. The effects of the climate crisis are here and will be in full force by 2050. Many who are hitting 65 today will be around then and at an age where they'll be least able to cope. Baby boomers will be hit hard by climate change and they'll want to be in resilient buildings that don't run on fossil fuels and don't need much fresh water. 

Plan of building


This is why the way 79 King Street is being built is as important as where. Jeff Spiritos of Spiritos Properties is building it to Passivhaus standards, which will eliminate worries about high heating and cooling bills. Passivhaus buildings are more resilient and can act as thermal batteries when the power goes out, and Spiritos tells Treehugger that the building will have a roof covered in solar panels and battery backups. Passivhaus is also a standard of comfort; the temperatures are more consistent, you can sit by the windows without cooking or freezing, and there are far better air quality thanks to the heat recovery ventilation system. Most of the units will have individual Aerauliqa systems.

Spiritos is a fan of mass timber, with three projects on the boards. He said that "mass timber buildings have the characteristics to reduce carbon emissions, build more efficiently, safely and less expensively and to improve the quality of the living experience for their users and inhabitants." Mass timber has biophilic qualities and helps control humidity, adding to residents' comfort.

"We are committed to delivering a building that showcases best practices for the construction industry, which has struggled to meet the moment of the impending climate crisis," said Spiritos. "By building to a carbon-negative, net-zero-ready design, we're proving how mass timber construction and Passive House certified standards are not only viable options for all multistory buildings including rental housing, but they are also its future."

We here at Treehugger describe Passivhaus as a standard for luxury. The architects for the project are BKSK, who know something about designing for comfort and luxury. They are known to Treehugger for the very luxurious Passivhaus condo in New York City with the nice shades.

In his book "Walkable City," city planner Jeff Speck wrote of aging boomers: "Freedom for many in this generation means living in walkable, accessible communities with convenient transit linkages and good public services like libraries, cultural activities, and health care." We have been saying this on Treehugger for years, promoting walkable cities and towns as the best place for what the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) called "active third-agers," perhaps a better term than aging boomers. I have also said that buildings should be designed to keep people healthy instead of just preparing for when they are not. 

Live Give Play's project would be on Treehugger if only for the mass timber construction and all-electric Passivhaus certification. But it has also addressed the future housing needs of active third-agers with its choice of location and economic model. It's an idea that I have been writing about for a decade and I am so excited to see it finally happen.