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  The “blue building” above is the first certified high efficiency Passive House project in NYC designed to be 90% more energy efficient than its neighbors. While most of the time you can’t see a building’s energy usage, in this cold winter evening thermal photograph that shows the surface temperatures of an entire row of townhouses, you can clearly see that the Passive House building’s exterior surface is nearly the same temperature as the outside air while its interior is a comfortable 70 degrees. This image also clearly shows which of its neighbors have no insulation, poor insulation and low performing windows. (The temperature range for this image is 11-degrees for the darkest blue to 28-degrees for the red/white regions. Note: the dark blue windows in the upper floors of all the buildings is simply a reflection of the winter sky’s energy in the glass of the window.)

  For the NYC brownstone, it started back in 2009-10 in Park Slope with Prospect Architecture blazing the trail with a Historic Passive House townhouse retrofit. They took a risk, made a few mistakes, shared them, fixed them and in the process taught a whole new generation of local builders what it would take to get it right. This followed with another project in Brooklyn Heights by Levenson McDavid Architects, on which we acted as the general contractor. And it all began to multiply quickly from there. Currently, there are dozens of townhouse projects around NYC retrofitting to the Passive House or near PH efficiency levels.

Why is this happening and what does this mean? Well first, many of these projects are not spending more to accomplish this great feat, but they benefit from achieving a nearly 90% reduction in heating and cooling usage, greatly increased control over the interior comfort and the vastly increased interior air quality that leads to better occupant health. What’s surprising is this last item, interior health, and how it has become one of the most important elements of what we do.

Three weeks after our Brooklyn Heights clients had moved into their Passive House, they made a casual comment one day while we were working at the house: “You know, the kids are sleeping better then they have in years, and they don’t seem to have asthma anymore.” What? They had asthma? And a house that we caringly crafted changed this? This one conversation altered our business forever and made us realize just how bad our buildings perform, cause health problems and waste precious resources.

And what about the picture above? Well it’s a thermal image on a 12 degree-F night of the first certified Passive House in NYC. A modest townhouse designed by Fabrica718 and energy modeled by Jordan Goldman. It represents the new norm for the future of our cities. And soon, just two doors up the street, another high efficiency townhouse that sg.BUILD is responsible for will create yet another “blue building” on the block. It’s not designed to be as efficient as the Fabrica718 home, but the owner's reasons for doing it are also vastly different. It is simply cheaper to build this way.

Soon the whole city will look like this. You won’t see the change, they will just be there looking like the rest. But they are different, like a ghost building that was nearly removed from the energy map. It sits there consuming less, giving more and caring for their occupants while the city goes on around them.