Passive House “Buildings of Excellence” Showcased by NYSERDA & BE-Ex

January 10, 2020


The Building Energy Exchange, BE-Ex, opened the doors of its Lower Manhattan offices Wednesday to a program featuring two of the teams that recently won the first round of the Buildings of Excellence Competition. These two teams were among the 24 recipients from throughout New York state who received a Buildings of Excellence award last November and collectively won $18 million in funding for their projects. Like many of the recipients, both teams’ projects will be Passive House certified when complete.

The competition, which was launched by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) in partnership with BE-Ex and other leading building organizations in March of last year, is not merely meant to incentivize architects and developers to design and build high-performance buildings. Rather, the goal is to create high-efficiency designs that can be easily replicated at relatively low cost while also increasing the safety, health, and comfort of occupants. The contest was open to both new construction and retrofits.

The well attended event began with some initial comments from BE-Ex Managing Director Yetsuh Frank and Patrick Fitzgerald, a Senior Project Manager for new construction at NYSERDA. Mr. Fitzpatrick noted that while the first round of the Buildings of Excellence Competition awarded grants to several buildings that were well into the construction phase, the second round will focus more on projects that are in the initial stages of design and development. Additionally, the $10 million in grants to be awarded in the second round will place a greater emphasis on projects that convert historic structures into high performance buildings.

The second round of the competition is scheduled to close on April 22, 2020. Winners are eligible to receive up to $1,000,000 in direct funding, as well as additional means of support.

The first team to speak at yesterday’s event was Brooklyn-based Baxt Ingui Architects. Presenters included one of the firm’s partners, Michael Ingui [also a founder of Passive House Accelerator], and Principal Architect Amy Failla. Their project, Engine 16, is a retrofit of a three-story building located at 223 East 25th Street in Manhattan. Erected in 1882, it served as a firehouse until it was decommissioned in 1974. At that time, the building became home to a church. Church members utilized the first floor for services and the second floor for classes and community events but did not use the third floor.

While there were some signs of neglect, particularly on the top floor, Failla said that many of the original details of the building remain intact—including tin ceilings, as well as historic railings, cornices, joists, and interior windows—and will be put to use in Baxt Ingui’s redesign, which includes adding an additional story to the building. Once finished, the structure will be a 4‑family building with a community facility on the ground floor and a green roof. The roof will also be home to a modest-sized solar array. Perhaps more importantly, the total primary energy of the project is anticipated to be 60,402 kWh/yr, which is 42.32% less energy intensive than the code baseline of 104,719 kWh/yr for a building of this size.

The project will be the first multifamily Passive House for Baxt Ingui, Ingui said. The firm’s previous projects have focused primarily on townhouses and brownstones in Brooklyn and Manhattan, which are very often well-suited to be retrofit to Passive House standards, he noted.

The second team consisted of Passive House Consultant John Loercher of Northeast Projects and Developer/Builder Michael Robinson. Their project, North Miller Passive Multifamily, located at 197 North Miller in Newburgh, is a retrofit of a townhouse in one of the city’s historic districts.

Engine 16 by Baxt Ingui Architects.

Engine 16 by Baxt Ingui Architects.

While many cities and towns in the Hudson Valley have seen an influx of new and oftentimes affluent residents, Newburgh has not witnessed this phenomenon to the same extent as nearby towns like Beacon or Hudson. Still, affordable housing remains a major concern in the area, not only because of rising rental costs and home prices, but also because a significant amount of the city’s housing stock is in a state of serious disrepair, especially properties that have gone into foreclosure.

197 North Miller, which was acquired following a foreclosure, was no exception. Several dumpsters worth of garbage had to be removed and a thorough cleaning had to be conducted before the renovations could begin. Conditions were so execrable that many contractors walked off the job, Robinson said.

Despite many obstacles, the team persisted with the retrofit and achieved PHIUS+ 2018 certification. With the funding they received by winning the Building of Excellence award, they were able to make upgrades and add renewables to the property to make it PHIUS+ Source Zero. Put more concretely, the project as designed allowed for a 38% reduction in annual kWh per inhabitant when compared to a conventional renovation (from 6,009 kWh to 3,710 kWh). The funding will allow them to bring annual kWh per inhabitant down to 0.

Following the presentations, the four—Ingui, Failla, Loercher, and Robinson—took the stage once again and participated in a discussion that was moderated by Gabrielle Brainard, an architect, Passive House Consultant, and educator who is currently teaching at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Pratt, and Columbia University. She then opened the floor to questions from the audience.

While the conversation often focused on the specifics of the projects, some broader themes emerged, the most important of which concerned the need to share lessons within the greater Passive House community and the need to make sure that at least the site supervisor has Passive House certification. The former helps designers avoid mistakes during the planning stages of the project. The latter helps teams avoid mistakes during the construction stage of the project.

[Diagram of North Miller Passive Multifamily above comes courtesy of Northeast Projects.]

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