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The Catskill Project: De-Carbonized Single Family Development in Rural NY | Passive House Live

Marrying Passive House design with panelized construction, electrification, renewable energy, and embodied carbon tracking, The Catskill Project is a residential development seeking to define a working prototype for responsible, de-carbonized single-family development in non-urban environments.

This presentation covers in-depth project details from presenters Buck Moorhead and Laura Carter from Buck Moorhead Architects as well as presenter and guest host Greg Hale of Regen Associates and NYSERDA.

You can watch the video presentation by clicking the image above or read the transcript below:

Greg Hale:
We really appreciate the work that the Passive House Accelerator has been doing, helping to spread the word of how these principles can, can really make a big difference to our climate goals in the state. And what I'd like to do, if Laura you could put up the first slide, I'd like to give you just a very quick whirlwind tour of the policy context in New York for anybody who's not aware of that. I'll try to keep this to five minutes. So we do think we have the most comprehensive legislation in the country. People from California may try to arm wrestle with us over that, but I do think that with the continuity of our act and our project, we're at least right up there with California, if not a little bit more comprehensive. So what are we looking at? We're looking at the Climate Leadership Community Protection Act.

Greg:
I'll just call it the Climate Act, which requires that we get on a statewide economy basis to carbon neutrality by 2050. And that's through at least an 85% direct reduction in greenhouse gases, and then anything we don't get there on the direct reduction would have to be through offsets or sequestration. With a 40% reduction by 2030 milestone, and importantly, it integrates some other elements, including our clean energy standard, which requires that all electricity generation come from renewable energy by 2030, and by 2040, our electricity grid needs to be 100% emission free. And that, of course is really critical because it means electrification becomes an extremely powerful decarbonization tool. Next, Laura.

Greg:
So why do we focus on buildings? Probably don't have to jump up and down on this for this audience. But a third of our emissions economy-wide in New York state come from direct emissions from buildings through onsite fuel combustion and the release of HFCs from refrigerants. If you add in the electricity use in buildings, that number goes up to about 45%. Eventually, that will shrink to zero, once we get to the zero carbon grid, but we're still left with a third that we need to get at of missions from buildings. And if you see on the right it's largely from space heating about two thirds of it is from space heating, big chunks from single family and multifamily and then water heating and cooking. Next slide. So the Climate Act set up something called the Climate Action Council which is a body that was supported by a number of different working groups, including one buildings in efficiency that has come up with what's called the scoping plan, which is all of the strategies that are being recommended or would be required to each carbon neutrality by mid-century.

Greg:
One of the chapters is about buildings that's where I will focus now. We are currently in a public comment process, if anybody's interested, please submit comments on this. There is staunch opposition from the likely suspects, fossil fuel industry, et cetera. So positive comments are really important and there are six different sessions coming up to make public comments, so you can just send written comments in as well. But some of the really important strategies here are about regulation. We want to do everything we can about market development, reducing the cost of these projects, supporting innovation, et cetera. But in the end to get to these goals by 2050, we need regulation. One of those is about new construction, we have a proposal on the table right now for an all electric new construction code requiring all electric, no fossil fuel or oil hookups by 2027, no later than 2027 and then we're talking about 2024 for single family houses.

Greg:
That's been introduced by the governor's office in their legislative priorities for this year. It's been endorsed by the state Senate and it's held up at the assembly and it's one of the reasons that the budget is late this year. There's a big battle going on right now, so let's stay on the edge of our seats, hopefully, we'll get to the right answer there. Bunch of other stuff involved, we're talking about a 10 time scale up of electrification of single family homes between now and 2030. So workforce development is critical, public awareness is critical, private financing is critical. And I'm already at my five minutes, so last slide.

Greg:
There's a lot in here, and if people are interested, I can send the public deck that goes through the entire suite of proposals to get where we need to get to. But what I really want to highlight here is, we think that we're ahead of the curve on this Catskill project that we're going to talk about, but hopefully, we're not too far ahead of the curve, because we would like to see the state adopt this all electric requirement for new construction as soon as 2024 in single family houses. So I want to stop there, I leave enough time for the rest of the presentation. And we'll talk to you again soon.

Buck Moorhead:
Good evening. Thank you all for being here. Thank you Zack and the Accelerator team. We're going to have about a 25 minute presentation max, we're going to push it to that. So we're going to be it for the after hour as well. Next slide there, Laura. Our project team and partners are identified here. Peter Malik and Greg Hale our principles of Regen associates, the developer of the Catskill project. Buck Moorehead architect was hired as architect in 2018. Laura Carter and Remy Moorehead of BMA have been working throughout on this project. I was bought in as a partner in region along the way. Our valued partners in the project are lined up on the bottom of the slide here. I'm going to pass this right back to Greg, who's going to discuss our mission as well as the overall site development.

Greg:
Okay, next slide. And just to clarify, I've put on my Catskill project hat. This is an outside activity, it's all approved by [inaudible 00:07:26] , but this is not [inaudible 00:07:27] and I just need to be clear about that every time. So, coming from my job, I've been at the state for almost 10 years now, pushing for net zero, it's always been a dream of mine to actually build to net zero and that's what we're doing here. And we're doing it on a community scale, which I think really sets us apart from many other passive house projects, at least in the Northeast. We certainly have apartment complexes that are shooting for overall carbon neutrality, but I don't know of another single family, residential community that is trying to do it as an entirety.

Greg:
So, that's what we're trying to do. Trying to set the model, we try to educate people that this is how the future of building should work. It's hinged on passive house design, we're looking for certification, regenerative design, carbon neutrality through electrification and onsite solar generation. We've paid attention to embodied carbon, there will be a discussion of that in a few minutes. And just being as friendly to the site as we possibly can be, we have, it's actually a 40 plus acre conservation area with hiking trails, we got waterfalls. It's an amazing site, invite anybody who's interested to come up and take a look. We're using penalized construction with Bensonwood. Next slide. So here's our project, if you look at the right, that's phase one, you can see the lighter area is subdivided into 11 lots. Our model house is on one of those lots right up near the top. Yeah, there you go, that lot where the cursor is dancing now. And then the darker shaded area is the conservation area and you can see the streams that come through and a lot of topography, a lot of falling water.

Greg:
Then we've got two more phases coming up, we've bought phase II already, that's in blue, and are supposed to close on phase II next week. So it will be a 25 lot project, about 155 acres, a little over. Next slide. And then where we are in the process right now, as Buck said, we started on it in 2018, got our subdivision approved finally in 2021, but we were doing a lot of site work beforehand. So we built our community road, our storm water management system, our trail system. We have completed our model house now with the site work and slab pour and the shell erection by Bensonwood and then the finishing from the assembled house by Bensonwood. And so pretty exciting, we've closed on our first contract on lot four, you can see that down toward the bottom right there.

Greg:
Site work has begun on that. And we've just signed a second contract, which we're trying to catch up to the first one in Bensonwood so that we're looking to have two house raisings this July, and then be working on finishing those houses over the next six to eight months or so. And obviously actively working on selling the other houses in the lot. So next slide. One thing that, I think, sets us apart, we talked about this being on a community basis, so we've actually put these restrictions into our declaration of covenants restrictions, easements, et cetera, but this has been recorded against the whole property, so everyone needs to live by this and it precludes fossil fuel from space heating, water heating, cooking.

Greg:
You're not allowed to use a fossil fuel backup generator unless it's secondary to electric battery backup. No fossil fuel powered recreational vehicles, and actually there's another one in here. I'm not sure if it's on this page, but if you don't elect to have solar on your house, then you're required to buy 100% clean energy through a community solar or some other system. So we're really trying to figure out how we can ensure that this is in fact, a carbon neutral community. So with that, that's end my piece of this. I believe we turn it back to Buck.

Buck:
Thank you, Greg. With respect to design that mission is the foundation of and embedded in our architectural program for the project. Modern rustic is a guiding design goal, lots of glass open to the natural environment. We concluded very early to implement the project, utilizing prefabricated panels. We decided very early to partner with Bensonwood, we did not have any sketch plan for the house at that time. We were heading toward a smaller scale house, max 2,500 square feet, two story three bedroom, expanding into outdoor rooms and outdoor spaces. Bensonwood has its unity line of homes, we studied those models, we asked what the important parameters were that were to be respected when we were to consider modifications. In the studio, we tested potential plans against the unity models, we selected the unity Varm line, ultimately the Varm 124 has our best starting point.

Buck:
We then explored floor plans within that model's framework and did the same analysis in section elevation. We assembled a presentation and made a second visit to New Hampshire where we explained this work, looking for Bensonwood's feedback with the goal to keep the project as one that worked within their existing fabrication system and had not crossed into the world of custom. It was a productive meeting, we received what I would call maybe a silver star, we had "colored within the lines." Next slide. So this shows where we started at with the various Varm model plans that we looked at. Next, Laura. Here's the Varm 124 that we used as a starting point. Next. Here are some of the iterations that we ended up taking up to show Bensonwood variations on that Varm 124. And we were looking at the same questions in section also, and here's some 3D massing model showing things that we're studying again regarding this model.

Buck:
And the balsam is our version of the Varm model. This is our floor plan, key design modifications, we established a two story feature corner in the bottom left corner, which is actually the Southwest. There it is. We moved the kitchen to the center, we established an L-shaped second floor, which also created a deck on that second level. We added an option for a three season room, which also has a second upper level deck. And we made a design decision to pitch the roof from the north edge of that building in an upward direction toward the south, rising up in the southerly direction. Next, please. And here are of the balsam. And next. Here are some sections where you can find that two story feature corner. Next. The model itself is located on an existing subdivided lot with well and septic. We sold the existing modular home for reuse, we broke up the existing slab it was on and used that in our new road construction. The model is on the same location and oriented to the south.

Buck:
We have built a two-story accessory building, garage below, studio, home office, guest room above, and our PV solar [inaudible 00:16:19] array will be above at the roof of that accessory building. The two structures together create an outdoor room, which is oriented to the south and west and to a prime longer view on the slide. One of our two new houses will be the same balsam model with a one story or garage with solar PV on that garage roof. We did a series of sun studies, which are there in the right hand corner, just to make sure that we minimized that the house is actually shading that garage roof with its solar panels. Our second new balsam house will have a ground mounted, solar array. Next slide. And I'll pass this Baton to Laura who will review some passive house details.

Laura Carter:
Yeah. So one of the great things about working with Bensonwood is that they were already really advanced in their approach to high performance building. So we didn't have to explain why we want massive amounts of insulation in the walls, we didn't have to tell them what an air barrier or an RV was or explain why we need triple P and windows. And one of the great things about working with panelized construction in general, is the opportunity to work through all of the construction details, literally down to the nail months before anything is actually built. So that coordination process was really interesting because not only are you discussing and detailing for the design intent, but you also have to talk about what the fabrication equipment can and can't do, you have to keep in mind that you can't request or discuss a change to a detail in the middle of construction since it's all pre-programmed, and you have to really anticipate what your rough in and finish contractors will need more than usual, because there isn't a GC just coordinating all of this as a building goes from the ground up.

Laura:
So given all of these challenges to our normal process, we are really fortunate to be able to start off on the same page with Bensonwood and use their stock wall and roof assembly details. So these are things that they already had programmed into their computers, already had certified by third party engineers, and that their workers were already used to assembling. So here you're looking at the wall and roof assemblies that we ended up with on the house. The meat of the shell, I guess, is two by 10 walls and 16 inch TJI roofs, both 24 inches on center and in filled with dense-pack cellulose, working towards the exterior there's a 40 millimeter steico fiberboard panel on the walls, a tapered layer of EPS on just the flat roof portion and then zip sheathing on the roof and a siga membrane on the walls for our WRB layer.

Laura:
I do want to note that the siga membrane here is largely redundant regarding weather protection, because the steico is also a WRB in and of itself. But it serves as a nice protective barrier for the steico during shipping and site assembly. It's obviously not impervious to damage itself, but gouges and rips and things are a lot easier to see on a bright blue membrane than they are on the monotone like beige brown of the fiberboard. So before Bensonwood left the site, they could very easily just take a lap around the house and find any point of damage and tap them up. Beyond that the rain screen sighting and a standing sea metal roof complete the exteriors. On the inside taped OSB sheathing forms the air barrier on the walls and roof, and those connect to a 10 mill poly layer under the slab.

Laura:
And then finally we have two by three and two by six stud cavities on the interior to give us a nice rough in space for plumbing and electrical, which we infilled with insulation after all that rough in work was complete. In here, just some nice photos of our shell and production. The upper left shows a wall panel on the production line. Next to that, they're installing one of our really big corner windows in the factory. And then a few photos showing how this went from a bear slab to a weather and airtight house pretty magically in the span of just a couple days. So our PHI certifier, who has been really, really great through this process, has also been really specific about our details. One of the big specificity hurdles we had was working out thermal bridge and condensation issues with our windows. We have eight different types of windows or doors on this house making 16 unique head and still connections that our certifier asked us to model.

Laura:
He also asked for eight additional construction details that have nothing to do with the windows, so we had a lot of these conditions to go with. He relaxed a little bit on some of the window details that were really similar, but I think we still ended up with 15 or 16 models to do. Fortunately, we had [Ed May 00:21:16] on board, I don't know if he's here tonight, but he's a very patient and kind person and didn't seem too annoyed by the amount of details I kept sending him. So, anyway, I'm happy to answer questions about why we had so many unique conditions on a relatively compact house. But I will spare the general audience for that for now. One thing I won't spare you is this specific window detail that was actually a bit of an experiment for us. And hopefully, Buck doesn't mind me saying that, but it seems to be working exactly as intended.

Laura:
So because the windows are all installed in the panels at the factory, the exterior waterproofing layer is also completed at the factory, which is, of course, a critical benefit of doing construction this way. All these important systems are constructed and completed literally under one roof, and there's one point of responsibility if there's ever an issue or repair is needed. The very specific, I suppose, downside of that, at least, in this case occurs at all of our window sills. So what you're looking at now is a detail of a typical sill from our coordination drawings. There's a bit of insulation on the interior shown in light blue, and that helps a bit, but generally there's still just a really significant bridge through the bottom of the frame shown in red.

Laura:
This bridge and the condensation risk it caused was having a massive negative effect on our overall heating demand value, because it was happening on all 23 of our windows on the project for a total of about 115 linear feet. And if anybody spent time in PHPP you know that, that's a big deal. So this was single handedly throwing us out of certification range. So we needed to find a way to insulate the bottom of the frames, but we could only put a small amount of insulation here in yellow without trapping water coming out of the weep holes. This would add a little bit of insulation to the frame, which is never a bad thing, but the size of the bridge through that bottom piece didn't actually change from doing this. So we ultimately ended up with this kind of delightfully analog solution.

Laura:
We took rigid Rockwool comfort board, cut it length-wise to fit each window, and then we used a very scientific process where one person stood on the inside of the house with a window open and poured water into the bottom of the frame, and another person stood outside the house and marked exactly where the water came out of the weep holes. Then we cut small channels into the back and the bottom of the Rockwool, lined up to those marks to create little drainage pathways. So now the water drains freely, the frame gets a lot of much needed over installation, and we were pretty much instantly back into certification range.

Laura:
One other quick detail I want to show you is how we address the bridges at our first floor door thresholds. So this is a first round coordination detail showing the door in the middle of the installation layer of the wall, which puts it just off of our concrete slab. So, that's the edge of the slab and our door is sitting outboard of that. We are using warmform for the slab installation and initial thought was to cut down the warmform slightly and put in wood blocking there to help support it. This, unfortunately, would've created a very clear bridge through the wood and the concrete. Not only is this a problem for PHPP, but it just wouldn't be comfortable under foot because you'd end up with these really cold spots on the floor every time there was a door. So our finished floor on this level is just the exposed concrete slab, so there's not even a layer of wood flooring on top of that to have warm up a bit.

Laura:
So our solution to this was to pour the concrete around a high-psi block of EPS that we placed under each door, with each block being about 16 inches wider than the door, and then pull the doors inward a bit so they rest fully on that installation. That allowed us to cut down the warmform on the exterior, so we could insert a saddle without having a big thermal bridge under the door. So that is a very rapid fire run through just a couple details on this house, but here's where we're sitting right now, construction is complete and we are at 9.12 for our heating demand, which is below the 9.51 threshold for low energy building certification, which is what we're aiming for here.

Laura:
Our last lower test was really good on the depressurization side at 0.3 ACH, not quite as good on the pressurization side, which we think is due to a magnetic damper that didn't get installed in our range hood exhaust line. So fortunately, a pretty easy fix, all things considered. The final commissioning of the ERV will happen in about two weeks, and then we'll be at the mercy of that very exacting certifier. So wish us luck and come visit the house, and I will kick this back to Buck now.

Buck:
Thank you, Laura. With respect to systems, we have one and a half[inaudible 00:26:21] to air heat pump, it's Fujitsu in the model, we expect those to be Mitsubishi moving forward. A Zender ERV system, we have adapted range hood it exhaust, even though we are all electric with induction cooking, we constructed an insulated makeup air panel camouflaged into the siding, operated by a window operator, which will actually be a linear actuator on future builds, sync to operate simultaneously this panel via a relay switch with the range hood control. We have an electric hot water heater, we switch during the design phase from a heat pump, hot water heater, we have Kramer in attendance, I hope, and hopefully he can assist us during a deeper discussion on this during the Q&A. Next slide, Laura. Here are the mechanical plans for the first and second floor.

Buck:
Next slide. With respect to shading, we designed fix shading on south windows based on evaluating their depth and sun studies. We designed a deeper system at the feature corner that provides more shading for those windows on the south, but particularly for the large west windows, we get a vertical shading from those build outs on that corner. We will track overheating the spring and summer and early fall to have more precise understanding of potential overheating. The house is unoccupied and was overheated occasionally this past summer when I walked in, but was rectified by just opening a couple of windows. Next, please. We wanted to test the resiliency of the house in this rural area when electrical power goes out, it might be for an hour, but once in a blue moon, it could be for a week. So we intentionally shut off the heat in mid-January this year for six days. We left the ERV running, we did not drain the plumbing, freaked out some people outside of our team. The weather was not fully sun, it was snow flury, some cloudy days and the such.

Buck:
But as you can see through this, the temperature never dropped below 50, and I appreciate Kramer's help, he set this up a couple sensors in the house and put the app on my phone.,And I was glued to my phone for those six days. Next, please. We made a decision early in the design phase that we should be thoughtful about the embodied energy and our materials. As stated earlier, our mission is rooted in regenerative design and circular economies. Bensonwood was a strong start with respect to their base wall and roof systems, wood framing, fiber board, dense pack cellulose. Next, please. With respect to the exteriors, the siding is predominantly green, local hemlock untreated. We have cupaclad at the base, which is a slate product that is completely demountable and reusable and great in the snow, very much excellent in terms of its circular economy attributes.

Buck:
Shou sugi ban in some locations, fire retard and insect resistant. We have a metal roof, not so great with respect embodied energy, but obviously good at keeping water out and part of the local vernacular. Our concrete slab, not so great, we're looking for a supplier with some fly ash that we can use as an additive. We have a warmth form under slab insulation, which is EPS, we're looking to replace some of that with some gravel in one of our next builds. With respect to the interior, we have site harvested wood from the property ash for flooring, cherry ceilings, soft maple around the kitchen. We use a rich light counters, which are recycled wood pulp, we have stick bulb fixtures, which use reclaimed hard pine. Next, please.

Buck:
We started tracking utilizing EC3 in 2019. EC3's library of materials was evolving then and probably still is now. We inputted what we knew on our end and could match in their libraries, others are based on industry averages, which EC3 does automatically. Based on this analysis, we were 91% better than the baseline for current carbon intensity of construction for similar buildings established by the carbon leadership forum. The lower spreadsheet we used -Tree to try [inaudible 00:31:18] and the sequestration potential of the conservation easement to be established as well as the value of cutting as i-Trees as we can in developing the project's infrastructure and lots themselves. Next slide, please.

Buck:
This is the EC3 spreadsheet that was the basis of the results for the proceeding slide. We still have a lot of ongoing work to do on, I think, with respect to tracking the carbon. We just click through some, these are some interior photos just to give you a sense of how the interior showed up. Lessons learned, our interior wood flooring had some serious problems of gaping as the unoccupied house became very dry in the winter. We are looking to adjust our milling detail for the flooring, we're going to pay more special attention to the flooring install over the concrete slab on the first floor, and consider adding some humidification. We added snow guards on the roof after we had a massive snow dump that actually blocked access from the house onto our upper deck, because the snow had frozen outside there. As Laura mentioned, we are going to incorporate magnetized range hood dampers that will help us better with our pressurization, air barrier tests, lower door tests. And we learned that manual operators for high owning windows can be problematic. Next, please.

Buck:
Future consideration, as I mentioned,` we're looking to glavel to replace some of the underslab EPS, fly ash concrete. We're going to be considering hot water options to optimize the hot water energy usage with respect to client use requirements and energy optimization. We want to incorporate gray water and rainwater collection into future houses, we're going to monitor the frequency of overheating, as I mentioned this summer, and we're going to add a third temperature monitor at the second floor. We wanted to look over our own shoulder with respect to the embodied energy, I know we've got PH ribbons available, we haven't really checked that, but we want to check that out and eventually conduct a full LCA with respect to the project. Next. These are just BMA other work we do, other retrofits. In New York city predominantly, and upstate we do some new construction and retrofit work as well, we're trying to focus on Local Law 97, work in the city. Next. And that's it. Thank you all. And I wanted to thank again, our partners here who have helped us on this project.

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