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Green Building News

Steps Forward and Back in Brooklyn, NY

A mixed-use building in Williamsburg aims to be the first in the city to earn Passive House certification, while a long-planned net-zero-energy project in the Red Hook neighborhood is sidelined by the city’s Department of Buildings

A mixed-use Passive House project – retail store on the bottom, residential on the upper floors – in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. It aims to be the first project in the city to be certified by Passive House Institute U.S.
Image Credit: Loadingdock5 Architecture (images 1-6, and 8); Red Hook Green (image 7)
View Gallery 8 images
A mixed-use Passive House project – retail store on the bottom, residential on the upper floors – in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. It aims to be the first project in the city to be certified by Passive House Institute U.S.
Image Credit: Loadingdock5 Architecture (images 1-6, and 8); Red Hook Green (image 7)
The back of the mixed-use building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The building’s 8-in. concrete masonry walls, with 7-in. expanded-polystyrene insulation. A dark-gray insulating finish system was added soon thereafter. Earlier this month, Loadingdock5 Architecture, which is leading the Passive House project in Williamsburg, developed a plan for window installations that features a free-floating wood box to hold the window, “with the key being for the box not to touch the brick at any point,” according to the firm’s website. The separations between frame and brick on all four sides of the window were to be filled with polyurethane foam to help stabilize the box and provide a thorough thermal barrier. A detail of a window installation at another Loadingdock5 Passive House project, also in Brooklyn. A section of the south-facing wall of the Passive House project in Brooklyn. Now derailed by an adverse ruling by New York City’s Department of Buildings, this building, proposed for Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood, would have combined residential and commercial uses, and was designed to operate at net zero energy. Another detail from the Loadingdock5 Passive House in Williamsburg.

There are signs that the housing market in Brooklyn, New York, may be inching toward recovery, according to recent analyst reports. And even though the borough is not a major source of real estate bargains, it is home to some interesting urban-green projects with residential components.

One of them, a home with a ground-floor retail store in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, is being built to Passive House standards by locally based Loadingdock5 Architecture. And if it performs as expected, it will be the first such building in New York City to earn Passive House certification.

In fact, the project, which includes 1,290 sq. ft. of store area and mechanical rooms, and 2,125 sq. ft. of residential space, is nearing completion. The exterior of the 8-in. concrete masonry walls has been clad in 7 in. of expanded polystyrene insulation and an exterior insulating finish system. The windows have been installed and, according to Loadingdock5 principal Sam Bargetz, a blower-door test will be scheduled shortly after a modified Bilco roof hatch is installed and sealing has been completed on the still-exposed interior of the concrete masonry and the steel deck that extends off the rear of the second floor.

“We are quite confident that we will get to the 0.6 air-changes/hour” performance standard that is among the requirements for certification, Bargetz told GBA. (Loadingdock5 performed a blower-door test a couple weeks ago as a demonstration for students at Parsons The New School for Design.)

The interior sealing should be completed next month, added Bargetz, who trained as an architect in Austria, came to New York in 1997, and is a certified Passive House consultant. He runs Loadingdock5 with Werner Morath, who also studied architecture in Austria and came to New York in 1997.

An ungreen zoning snafu

But while the Loadingdock5 Passive House is progressing as planned, a 4,000-sq.-ft. live-work structure we mentioned back in May, planned for Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood and net-zero-energy performance, was derailed last week when the city’s Department of Buildings denied the project a building permit because its planned residential component is at odds with the zoning for the lot, which is designated for manufacturing.

The project’s developer, technology and media entrepreneur Jay Amato, notes in a recent blog post that he chose the site, a corner lot, because it afforded the best sun exposure in the area for the solar power system he planned to install on the building. Amato said he received unofficial assurances that his permit request would likely sail through to approval, in part because the “caretaker’s apartment” portion of the project would be incidental to its primary use. He is now trying to figure out where to go from here.

4 Comments

  1. J Chesnut | | #1

    questions
    Is this all new construction, or is it adding on to an existing structure?
    What make of windows are being used?

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Response to J Chesnut
    J Chesnut,
    The blog is frustratingly vague. After some searching, I found a partial answer in a comment posted on this page:
    http://www.loadingdock5.com/index.php?/more/our-studio-blog/

    No brand name is revealed! Only, "they are imported from Austria as we could not find any modern well performing windows in the US."

  3. LD5 | | #3

    Response to J Chesnut
    Hello GBA
    thxs for the post!

    - the detail in the post is from a Passive House retrofit project with interior insulation.
    we have the right detail on our site here: (scroll to the right)
    http://www.loadingdock5.com/index.php?/progress/174-grand-street/

    - 174 Grand is ground up new construction.

    - the windows are fantastic and from http://www.walchfenster.at/en/index.php

    importing is a bit tricky so let us know if we can help...

  4. J Chesnut | | #4

    innovative windows
    Thanks for the responses Martin and LD5.

    Since I have been working on Passivhaus design with a colleague from Germany I've been excited to see the design of the European windows. These Austrian windows in particular are interesting in how the glass multi-pane sandwich is released from its encasement. It is a beautiful detail that only the glass is exposed to the elements on the exterior. The operating mechanisms also look great. Since windows more than most building components are improved in a precise manufacturing process lets do what the Europeans are doing and push their design forward.

    Great to see an example of a high performance building brought to an urban infill retrofit.

    I think another interesting topic for GBA is European innovations in bypassing thermal bridges with high density foam components, plastic profiles with expansion tapes (that replace caulk joints), adhesives, and exterior insulation finish systems. These are more familiar to us in commercial design but designers from Europe in the US are employing them in residential design. A controversial subject to be sure but in the context of an urban multi-use infill project more appropriate.

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