Passive House Buildings Go From Small to Extra-Large

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©. Handel Architects

There is a building revolution going on in New York City, as it becomes "the passive house epicentre of the country."

Anyone who thinks that Passive House design is just for houses should have a look at Sendero Verde, a huge new project by Handel Architects in New York City. With 317,885 square feet of residential space and 27,906 square feet of commercial space and 650 affordable units, when it is completed it will be the largest affordable Passive House building in the world. And anyone who thinks that Passive House is a niche concept for rich people that will never catch on in North America should visit New York, where it is just exploding.

As Andreas Benzing notes in the introduction to a new guide, From Small to Extra-Large: Passive House Rising to New Heights, "New York City is fast becoming the Passive House epicenter of the country." He explains the reasons that Passive House buildings are so important for meeting commitments to reducing carbon:

Passive House buildings, which achieve substantial energy reductions and resiliency through cost-effective and skillful design and construction, are key to achieving these commitments. These buildings use up to 90% less energy for heating and cooling, and up to 70% less energy overall, than conventional buildings do.

That's Handel principal Deborah Moelis sitting next to me and watching me dance at the New York Passive House conference in New York City, where I moderated a panel asking "What's Next?" The answer was -- a lot more big Passive House buildings.

In his introduction in the guide, Richard Yancey of the Building Energy Exchange explains that "the proliferation of Passive House building in New York today arose within the context of increasing recognition of the seriousness of climate change." Since 2007 there has been a "cascade of legislative changes" that encourage energy efficiency. Then Superstorm Sandy upped the ante. There are new "energy stretch codes for the city, including a performance-based energy code in 2025 that is expected to have targets similar to those of Passive House."

Scott Short (sitting next to Deborah in the tweet photo), CEO of the RiseBoro community partnership which is building nonprofit Passive House housing projects, noted that it really doesn't cost that much more to build to the Passive House standard, and that as legislated energy codes get tighter, the difference in cost continues to shrink.

Sendero Verde rendering

© Sendero Verde/ Handel Architects

But even if it costs a little more, it is worth it. As we have noted before, there are significant benefits for the community, developer and the occupants; Dr. Wolfgang Feist, one of the founders of the Passive House movement, wrote in his intro to the guide:

The high-quality construction and attention to detail ensure that Passive house buildings have a long life-cycle, and the ventilation systems found in Passive House buildings provide plentiful fresh, pollen-free and almost dust-free air, providing the best possible indoor air quality. This maximizes comfort and health for all, especially in an urban context where air quality can be a concern. This combination's result is clear: Passive House is the solution for urban contexts.

And after spending two nights in a hotel listening to sirens, garbage trucks and street parties, I would also note that leakproof walls and triple-glazed windows deliver a level of quiet that is pretty good for urban contexts.

More to follow on TreeHugger from Small to Extra Large, Edited by Mary James of Low Carbon Productions.

Scan of book

© From Small to Extra Large