New York architects are warming up to passive houses — a voluntary super energy efficient home building standard that has a following in Europe but is still in its infancy in the U.S.
Brooklyn Cohousing in Park Slope would be one of the first residential projects in New York and one of only a handful in the country to be built as a passive house. Future residents of the Park Slope development have endorsed the passive standard proposed by Ken Levenson, whose firm, Levenson McDavid Architects, is designing the building at 1901 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street. Levenson stumbled upon the building standard while hunting online for ideas on reducing a building’s carbon footprint. After reading about passive homes and consulting with German-born architect Katrin Klingenberg, who designed the first American passive house in Urbana, Ill., Levenson became convinced the standard could work for Brooklyn Cohousing.
Passive houses are designed to feel comfortable most of the time without active heating or cooling. There are about 15,000 passive homes worldwide, mostly in German speaking countries. Plans for the Park Slope project call for stuffing the walls, roof and ground slab with greater insulation, and outfitting the building with high-performing windows and doors, all designed to maintain an air-tight environment. Apartments would be outfitted with individual climate controls and serviced by a split heat pump system, which would be about 70 percent smaller than what would be found at a conventional building, Levenson said, but big enough to keep residents comfortable. Since the building would require little energy for space heating or cooling, electric bills would be reduced by about 90 percent.
The energy-saving features would add no more than 10 percent to the initial construction costs, which would be passed down to buyers, but residents would see a payback in five to six years in reduced energy bills, he said.
Levenson belongs to the U.S. Green Building Council and respects the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, green building rating system. But he’s convinced passive houses more directly address energy consumption than LEED-certified buildings do.
Now a vacant factory, Brooklyn Cohousing is being designed as a 30-unit co-op apartment building that will foster a sense of community with features such as a dining room, outdoor gardens and other common areas to be shared by residents.
More passive houses are on the horizon. A Park Slope townhouse is being renovated according to the passive standard, said David White, who’s acting as a consultant for the Brooklyn Cohousing project. Furthermore, Chris Benedict, an East Village architecture firm, is designing a new 24-unit apartment building in Brooklyn to meet passive house standards.
Earlier this year, White and two colleagues with expertise in the building technique met with Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber, who expressed an interest in exploring passive house construction.