Julie Torres Moskovitz is the principal at the collaborative design firm Fabrica718 in Brooklyn and she's also the author of The Greenest Home, a new book about passive houses around the world. We first were introduced to Moskovitz in 2012 when she and her firm completed the Tighthouse, the first certified Passive House in NYC. While designing her passive house, Moskovitz couldn't find many case studies on other similar houses and she felt there was a wide gap in knowledge sharing about this important green building construction standard. So she did what any over-achieving designer would do: she wrote the book herself. The Greenest Home, which came out this summer, features 18 passive house projects and details the design, technologies, and construction techniques utilized in building some of the greenest homes in the world.
We recently cornered Moskovitz and pressured her to answer all our questions. What better expert on passive houses is there than someone who builds them and has studied them extensively? Her book The Greenest Home, which is available at your finest online retailers and hopefully your local book store, is chock full of beautiful images along with lots of great technical info that should answer any of your more serious questions about the nature of passive house construction.
Inhabitat: Why do you think passive houses are the best standard for green building out there?
Julie Torres Moskovitz: A certified Passive House project performs close to its modeled energy use and it is proven to work. It is a performance-based system that prioritizes conserving energy. The project is air tight and insulated with minimized thermal bridges and bolstered with technological aspects such as high performance windows and doors coupled with intelligent membranes, tapes, and an HRV (heating recovery ventilation) unit. I like that if you follow the PHPP (Passive House Planning Package) and the building meets the standards then you know that you have built yourself an extremely energy-efficient and well-performing building. This is exciting as there is lots of concern about climate change and reducing carbon footprint but there is little in the way of a tried-and-true path to make that energy reduction happen. Passive House is it, and your air quality and well-being are improved while reducing your energy consumption so you are not required to sacrifice your quality of life. It’s not the only answer but it’s a big piece of the puzzle for the building sector.
Inhabitat: Can you explain the difference between the European standards and American?
Julie Torres Moskovitz: The Passive House Institute is based in Darmstadt, Germany and they created the PHPP (Passive House Planning Package) software and they certify designers, tradesmen, and even products such as windows and HRVs (heat recovery ventilators). The Passive House standards are set by PHI but there are different entities in different regions in the world that certify projects. In my book, The Greenest Home, I cover eighteen recent case studies and clearly point out which projects are certified or not and by which entity. Most projects I feature are certified by PHI even the American projects but some were certified by PHIUS, Minergie, and the Flemish Passive House Platform.
It’s important to note that all of these certifying agencies, whether PHI, PHIUS, or other regional entities, are working towards the broader goal of helping create a pathway to high performance buildings.