This past week at the Global Passive House Happy Hour, we heard from Manon Meskens of A2M Architecture about two retrofit projects from the land of chocolate, beer, and Passive House: Belgium. While North America may be seeing some significant growth in the adoption of the Passive House standard, it has been code in Belgium since 2015. This includes not only new multifamily buildings, but all construction: retrofits, administrative buildings, prisons, and even single-family dwellings. As Manon earned her master’s degree in 2015, it is no surprise that she has only worked on Passive House projects. This includes Les Balcons and ING Marnix, the subjects of her presentation.
Les Balcons (the Balconies) was a relatively nondescript 134,000-ft2office building from the 1980s prior to the retrofit that converted it into an apartment complex with 92 units. According to Manon, building-wide energy cost savings have reached $64,000 per year, and the total cost for the retrofit was $115/ft2.
Owners and developers in North America should be particularly interested in this project. As Manon pointed out, the COVID pandemic has revealed that a lot of office work can be done from home and, consequently, many companies are downsizing their office space if they haven’t already. This will likely continue to have a depressing effect on commercial real estate markets for the foreseeable future, while demand for housing will almost certainly remain strong amidst an historic shortage of supply.
ING Marnix was very different project. The 581,875-ft2office building was erected in the 1960s to serve as the headquarters of ING Bank in Brussels and continues to do so to this day. Additionally, the building is a Brussels landmark and preservation law mandated that its appearance had to remain aesthetically the same from the street. Solar panels, for example, were allowed on the roof, but only if they were not visible to pedestrians. Similarly, adding exterior insulation was out of the question because the façade had to remain the same. Despite these constraints and other challenges, the team managed make the building carbon neutral and to cut the heating demand from 41 Kbtu/(ft2·y) to 3.8 Kbtu/(ft2·y).
To learn more about these two projects, check out Manon’s presentation below:
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