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Green Building News

An Affordable Passivhaus Comes to Pittsburgh

A single-family three-bedroom Passivhaus project in the southwest part of the city is under construction

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A Passivhaus project for Steel City. Billed as the first Passivhaus in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this three-bedroom home is being developed by Action-Housing, which specializes in affordable housing and weatherization services.
Image Credit: Thoughtful Balance Inc.
A Passivhaus project for Steel City. Billed as the first Passivhaus in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this three-bedroom home is being developed by Action-Housing, which specializes in affordable housing and weatherization services.
Image Credit: Thoughtful Balance Inc.
The 1,800-sq.-ft. house, which is being built in the borough of Carnegie, was designed by Thoughtful Balance, based in Pittsburgh. Action-Housing, in collaboration with TBI Contracting, expects to complete the project in October.

Action-Housing, an affordable-housing developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, recently celebrated the opening of Pittsburgh Green House, a 110-year-old home that has been renovated to serve as a training facility for weatherization and residential construction contractors.

Co-created by Phipps Conservatory and the Green Building Alliance, Pittsburgh Green House dovetails with Action-Housing’s mission as a weatherization services provider. (The group has weatherized the homes of more than 39,000 low-income families since 1982.) The house also demonstrates Action-Housing’s commitment to develop techniques for building affordable, energy-efficient homes.

Sidestepping renewables

Action-Housing is not only involved in renovation projects, however; the group also tackles new construction. The developer broke ground this month on a two-story, three-bedroom house in Pittsburgh’s Carnegie borough that will be built to the Passivhaus standard. Billing the project as Pittsburgh’s first Passivhaus, Action-Housing is collaborating with TBI Contracting and architecture firm Thoughtful Balance to create a 1,800-sq.-ft. home whose annual heating costs could be as low as $240 (depending on occupant behavior) without renewable-energy systems.

Thoughtful Balance associate Michael Whartnaby, who recently completed training as a Passivhaus consultant with Passive House Institute U.S., told the Pittsburgh Business Times that construction costs are expected to total about $225,000, or just over 12% more than construction costs on a house with the same floor plan that barely meets code.

Renewable-energy systems were ruled out to help keep costs down, one of the consultants on the projects, Linda Metropulos, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“We wanted to make it affordable and energy-efficient without all the bells and whistles,” said Metropulos, whose firm, Metropulos Development, specializes in “sustainable projects in urban settings.”

The Post-Gazette adds that Action-Housing officials were inspired to attempt a Passivhaus project during a housing conference in Europe in October 2010, when they visited single-family and midrise buildings on Berlin and Freiburg, Germany.

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