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Passive House Construction Can Help NYC Developers Save on Emissions Costs

The Alnoba retreat center in Kensington, New Hampshire, meets the passive house standard. The International Passive House Association oversees the certification, which is categorized by energy-saving features, efficient space heating and cooling, airtightness and year-round thermal comfort.

Recently, New York City passed the Climate Mobilization Act bill as a way to counter climate change. If passed into law, the bill’s foundation would require buildings that are larger than 25,000 square feet to cut climate emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and by more than 80 percent by 2050. The legislation also requires certain buildings to cover roofs with plants, solar panels, small wind turbines or a combination of those elements.

Rent-regulated housing, as well as structures of worship, won’t be subject to the emissions cap. However, building owners whose properties are subject to the new law will be fined $268 for every ton of emission beyond an individual building’s limit. To make the necessary changes to avoid these massive penalties — such as replacing outdated heating, cooling and lighting systems — owners will need to retrofit older buildings with updated energy-efficient technology.

Jessica Anthony, Callahan Construction Managers

The legislation demonstrates what a metropolitan version of the Green New Deal, the national movement for a multi-trillion dollar, climate-friendly plan, might look like. The legislation is expected to create thousands of blue collar jobs and make it easier for the city to take advantage of future state and federal funding for clean energy projects and climate change ready infrastructure. As fears of climate change and its effect on the industry rise around the globe, other cities are taking notice and beginning to follow New York City’s lead.

While almost all of Callahan Construction’s recent and ongoing jobs are built to U.S. Green Building Council LEED Certification standards, we are starting to see passive house construction becoming a more favorable method of green building due to its rigorous sustainability standards and energy-efficient mechanical systems.

Although there is always an upfront cost for the upgrades associated with passive house certification, the result is an extremely efficient building. This type of construction delivers a less costly building that can be maintained with more longevity. Contemporary climate-conscious customers are now widely considering this to be an amenity.

Passive house standards improve indoor air quality and temperature with simple-to-use systems, which makes them extremely quiet and comfortable throughout the changing seasons.

In addition, designing to passive house standards can reduce a building’s energy demand for heating and cooling by 90 percent. The reductions in operating costs over time make up for the additional costs associated with construction, and the reduced carbon emissions provide climate-friendly buildings.

We are currently working on an affordable housing project in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with Just-A-Start Corporation. The project will incorporate passive house standards into its sustainably goals.

Additionally, in 2016, Callahan Construction completed Alnoba in Kensington, New Hampshire, the first project of its kind to use passive house standards in New England.

As we move into 2020 with the global climate crisis at the forefront of the minds of many, and with new legislation being adopted in cities such as New York City, it is becoming increasingly apparent that current mainstream building methods are unsustainable.

Globally, about 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings. And while sustainability in construction has undoubtedly come a long way, there is still a long way to go.

— By Jessica Anthony, Project Executive, Callahan Construction Managers. This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Northeast Real Estate Business magazine.

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