We at InhabitatNYC have barely been able to contain our excitement as we’ve followed the progress of various Passive House projects in the tri-state area. In addition to these finished works, several projects under construction in and around the city are following Passiv Haus standards, a sustainable building system which originated in Germany and focuses on reducing operating energy and enhancing comfort and air quality within. New York Passive House, like other local chapters of the Passiv Haus Society, was created to promote the movement’s standards in the local area by creating an open forum for designer, construction professionals, manufacturers, clients and others. Inhabitat recently had the pleasure of speaking with local architect and NY Passive House co-founder and president, Ken Levenson. Read ahead for the exclusive interview!
INHABITAT NYC: New York City has seen a sudden explosion in construction of Passive House projects over the last year or so. From NYPH’s standpoint, what are the primary goals of Passive House construction, and the Passiv Haus movement in the United States?
Ken Levenson: The goal of Passive House standards is to optimize the construction down to what must be built, to avoid using any construction bells and whistles that aren’t absolutely necessary. By following the standards, participants optimize the building performance, achieving much better interior thermal comfort and air quality, as well as a dramatic reduction in the heating and cooling energy requirement. The heating and cooling energy demand reduction is so great (at 90%) that projects become very cost effective, and have huge cost benefits to the building owner and occupant going forward.
INHABITAT NYC: Passiv Haus has grown exponentially in Germany and all across Europe in recent years, yet it is just now beginning to surface in the United States. What are the main challenges to achieving Passive House standards in NYC and the U.S.?
Ken Levenson: The most complicated issue builders encounter in Passive House construction is the air tightness, and its uncertainty. You can calculate the thermal performance of the building very well with the PHPP (Passiv Haus Planning Package) spreadsheet and software, and you can know whether you’re building to specifications or not, but until you actually hit threshold numbers in the blower-door test, you don’t know if the building is actually air tight. And as we’re doing more projects, we’re seeing more details of what works and what doesn’t. It’s a big part of NY Passive House to get the professionals and the people working on projects to share their experiences so we’re not all making original mistakes. We can share our mistakes, teach successful methodologies, give tours of different houses, and see what other people are doing and how their projects succeed.