As New Yorkers continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, now in its second wave, and with the threat of climate change looming, “passive house” developers in the country’s densest city see their building philosophy as a response to these ongoing challenges — and hope this compels buyers in a down market.
In Brooklyn, two passive house developments in Greenwood Heights and south Park Slope and a school in Downtown Brooklyn were designed with energy efficiency in mind, but the builders also point to improved air quality as a key feature.
Unlike Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, which focuses on various aspects of environmentally-friendly design, passive house focuses more on energy efficiency of the structure.
“Once you execute it, it just makes it a better building,” says Bill Caleo, co-founder of The Brooklyn Home Company, which is behind the new passive house developments at 715 6th Ave., where two- to three-bedroom units are priced from $1.2 to $2.1 million, and at 271-273 14th St., where studios to four bedrooms are asking $615,000 to $2.795 million.
Because the building envelope is designed tightly in a passive house development, passive houses use energy recovery ventilation (ERV) systems, which increase ventilation and help reduce indoor airborne contaminants, like viruses.
It is also designed to fit into the city’s ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
New York builder Alloy Development is currently in the process of building the city’s first passive house residential tower, a 38-story building that is all electric, and school — a new elementary school and building for the Khalil Gibran International Academy — at 100 Flatbush Ave.
Jared Della Valle, Alloy’s co-founder and chief executive officer, which also created some of the first passive houses in the DUMBO neighborhood in 2015, points to research that better air quality improves student performance.
“We wanted to build schools for the 21st century,” says Della Valle, who lives in Brooklyn.
The public-private partnership is being built in partnership with the city’s School Construction Authority, though it’s not tied to the city’s budget, as Alloy is leasing the air rights
“The city is leveraging the ownership of its land,” Della Valle explains.
Both developers think the passive house philosophy can transcend fluctuations in market demand.
“Right now it’s hard to see what’s really happening,” Caleo says. “It’s hard to tell if people are really going to move. But I’d rather have a superior building with superior air quality.”
Though the impact of the pandemic will be felt in the quarters and possibly years to come, Della Valle remains optimistic, particularly for the future of passive house design in the city.
“For the city to pursue something like this, it meant something,” Della Valle says.