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Green Building News

The Passive House Family Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Another project aiming for Passivhaus certification wraps up in the borough, this time in the Park Slope neighborhood

Image 1 of 4
This townhouse, in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, was retrofitted to meet the Passivhaus standard. The remodel also included the installation of two new kitchens, three and a half bathrooms, built-in bookshelves, two EcoSmart fireplaces, a solar hot water system, new oak flooring, a new back deck, and a landscaped backyard. The original moldings and casements were restored.
Image Credit: Adam B. Bell and Prospect Architecture
This townhouse, in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, was retrofitted to meet the Passivhaus standard. The remodel also included the installation of two new kitchens, three and a half bathrooms, built-in bookshelves, two EcoSmart fireplaces, a solar hot water system, new oak flooring, a new back deck, and a landscaped backyard. The original moldings and casements were restored.
Image Credit: Adam B. Bell and Prospect Architecture
During initial blower-door tests, the construction crew warmed the interior to about 60 degrees and used a Flir i7 infrared camera to check for cold points. Three Heliodyne collectors were used for the solar hot water system, which was sized to provide 75% to 80% of the occupants’ annual hot-water needs. The triple-glazed windows were custom made to meet local landmark requirements.

Passive House construction is no stranger to urban settings, so it’s not surprising that the performance standard seems to be gaining ground in New York City. Brooklyn, especially, seems to have caught the bug.

In October we mentioned a Passivhaus project underway in the borough’s Williamsburg neighborhood, and a few weeks ago local news source Brooklyn Ink offered an overview of the standard, pegged in part to a brownstone renovation in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood.

Targeting insulation issues and airtightness from the basement up, the remodel of the four-story building also had to meet local landmark requirements, which meant the purchase of expensive triple-glazed custom windows that conform to the style of the originals. It is an opulently finished project. And its architect, Brooklyn-based Prospect Architecture, says it is the first townhouse retrofit in the nation to aim for the Passivhaus standard.

Keeping the PH conversation going

According to Passive House Institute US’s locator map for certified consultants in North America, there are 14 such consultants in New York City, including eight in Brooklyn. In November 2009, a group called NY Passive House, whose organizers include Prospect Architecture principal Jeremy Shannon, formed to create a local forum for discussing Passivhaus topics at monthly social gatherings called “Meetups.” The group caters to contractors, architects, designers, suppliers, and consumers interested in learning about the standard and delving into the particulars.

The retrofit also included the installation of two EcoSmart ventless fireplaces, solar hot water, new wood floors, two new kitchens, and remodeled bathrooms, plus extensive restoration of the interior woodwork.

Update from Jeremy Shannon, December 6, 2010:

Jeremy Shannon tells GBA that work is now complete on the brownstone’s 2,500-sq.-ft. owner’s triplex and nearly complete on the building’s 900-sq.-ft. basement rental apartment. The project team is striving to bring the level of air sealing where it needs to be so that the house can be tested for Passivhaus certification in January.

While he said he is not at liberty to disclose overall per-square-foot costs, Shannon did note that the cost of pursuing Passivhaus performance added only about 2.7% to the price before energy rebates and tax credits. Nonetheless, the cost of a renovation of this quality and thoroughness, especially for an old brownstone in New York City, is quite high even without the deep energy retrofit.

Shannon added that Prospect Architecture is working on two more Passivhaus projects, both townhouses, in Park Slope, and a development of Passivhaus homes on the Caribbean island of Nevis.

5 Comments

  1. lucas dupuis | | #1

    ventless fireplaces?
    I think its great to see buildings of this type being considered for a PH retrofit. Ambitious indeed. I have to ask though, can you really include ventless fireplaces in a passive house design? These are illegal in many jurisdictions due to concerns about CO and moisture levels. I would think that particularly in a PH, adding that much moisture to the interior environment would be a big problem. Maybe I'm missing something here, so please comment back.

  2. User avater
    Ken Levenson | | #2

    ventless fireplace
    Actually these devices seem very well suited to Passive House construction - given the continuous fresh air ventilation provided. You are adding humidity, but in the winter - exactly when the air is the driest. There are a few Passive House projects installing these devices right now. It will be good if we can get some data on the interior air quality when the burners are running vs. when they are off.

  3. User avater
    Ken Levenson | | #3

    ventless fireplace - from manufacturer
    for what it's worth -
    here is what the manufacturer has to say about combustion gases:
    "What are the emissions when burning Bio Ethanol? The result of combustion of Bio-Ethanol is water, steam and carbon dioxide. The ratio of CO/CO2 passes standards for flue less gas fireplaces and the amount of Carbon Monoxide is negligible."

    and about appropriate use:
    "Can EcoSmart™ Fires be installed everywhere? Almost everywhere! EcoSmart™ Fires cannot be installed into bathrooms or rooms that are less than 70m3 [2472ft3] per burner.For all other installations you must comply with our compulsory clearances and installation instructions. Approval from building authorities may be required prior to installation in your area. Please make sure you contact appropriate parties before installing your EcoSmart™ Fire."

    and again, with the continuous fresh air ventilation - seems like a home run.... of course we need to get some independent data - but we should have that in a matter of months....

  4. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    The EcoSmart fireplace
    The EcoSmart fireplace is a ventless appliance that burns ethanol (alcohol, AKA strong vodka). It's been discussed several times on various GBA pages. The last time the topic came up, this is what I wrote:

    "Here's all you need to know: alcohol fuel (ethanol) costs $26.33 per gallon in small quantities, or $15.53 in large quantities (including delivery charges). Here's the link:
    http://www.e-nrg.com "

  5. User avater
    James Morgan | | #5

    A model project
    Upscale urban rowhomes should be ideal candidates for PH conversion. Spacious enough to add thick interior insulation, limited glazed openings, limited energy transfer through party walls, triple glazing added benefits through urban noise reduction, and perhaps most of all, real estate values high enough to carry the premium cost.

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