INHABITAT NYC: How did you become interested in Passive House construction?
Ken Levenson: I became interested in Passive House because I was looking at low energy lifestyles, all sorts of strategies to lower the carbon footprint of one’s life, and thinking of climate change’s impact on the built environment. I came about Passiv Haus on the internet a few years ago, and it was the first movement that I saw in green building and sustainable design that not only had a huge impact on energy and going beyond net zero, but was measurable and was attainable.
The predictability of Passiv Haus really spoke to me. One of the problems with green construction, as most people involved in the field are aware, is the lack of predictability. A lot of “green projects” are turning out to be big energy hogs. These buildings may have very admirable green qualities to them, but in terms of energy they’re a disaster. So Passive House spoke to me in saying, if you do X, Y and Z, you’re going to get THIS result, and it was a revelation. Before that it was difficult to take a full range of sustainability options to a client and say, “You know we really need to invest in these windows and we really need to invest in this and this,” and the client is going to ask, “well, what’s the net result,” and the design team is not sure. The client really has to be altruistic at that point, but with Passive House, altruism isn’t required. It’s a pure transaction, and the designer is saying “if you do this, you’re going to get this, and it’s your decision to make.”
INHABITAT NYC: How did NYPH come about? How does the organization bring together architects, designers, and clients to get projects started?
Ken Levenson: New York Passive House is a local nonprofit founded just under a year ago by Passive House enthusiasts in New York City and in conjunction with what we knew to be happening around the country. The monthly meet up events are organized through the Meetup website (used for all sorts of events and interests), advertised through the NYPH website. We bring together a pretty diverse crowd of architects, builders, homeowners, manufacturers, students, and people that just heard about it. We’re just getting together a space in New York for people to connect up, and see what happens, to be a catalyst. Every week we get a few more members, more manufacturers, more professionals, more homeowners, and it’s really exciting. There are a lot more projects being planned each month. It’s growing fast.
INHABITAT NYC: How do you personally incorporate Passive House standards into your work at your firm, Ken Levenson Architect?
Ken Levenson: I’ve been very fortunate in that in the last year we’ve been able to have a number of projects with PH standard, so hopefully they will be certified and certifiable, because of lessons learned through shared experiences. In terms of the projects and applying those lessons, we have four projects in construction right now that are potentially going to hit Passive House certification level. We’ll see how it goes. But we’re doing a number of projects that are not going to hit those levels, because we’re just not renovating the house to the extent that’s required. Yet we’re doing what we can to make those houses airtight, and much more rigorously than we would have otherwise. The windows that we are putting in are not going to be PH certified, but they will be triple glazed, much more high performance windows than we would have used normally. We’re putting a high performance ventilation system in the house to get the fresh air up in the house, and trying to make it as airtight as possible. And we’re using PHPP to calculate and try to figure out, maybe not as exactly as we would have for a house that we’re trying to get certification for, how the house will function. So we’re using a non-Passive House project and still implementing Passive House methodology up to a point. Over the next year or two there should be a number of our projects that have different levels of “passive house-ness,” and we’ll see how they perform, and see what’s working and what’s not working.
INHABITAT NYC: How do you foresee the progress of the Passive House movement throughout the country and specifically in New York City, not just in homes, but also in commercial or other types of construction?
Ken Levenson: Passive House is growing, and it’s growing geometrically. If you looked at the Passive House 101 presentation (shown earlier at the event), you saw one quick Passiv Haus project timeline graph that shows a curve going up. And it’s really happening in the US now; we’re starting from zero, so it’s still just a handful of projects, but it’s going fast, and it’s growing across the country. Mostly in the coasts, mostly in New York, California, Washington State, Oregon, Massachusetts, Virginia, but it’s going. It’s going to be big!