April 19, 2024

Beginning in 2023, multifamily developers will have to contend with three requirements. First, America needs more housing. Second, building construction and operations must reduce their carbon footprint. Third, our cities need new, creative housing solutions beyond today’s standard large multifamily complexes.

Buildings designed with Passive House certification offer opportunities to meet these requirements in a cost-effective and sustainable way.

We need more housing: Freddie Mac estimates in 2020 that 3.8 million new homes will be needed. A 2021 National Association of Realtors report estimates that we have “underbuilt” housing somewhere between 5.5 million and 6.8 million units since 2001. Because the most acute housing needs are attributed to household formation of America’s 72 million millennials, these shelters should be close. the work and the price is moderate.

John H Martin
John H. Martin. Photo: Rachel Martin

To build the type and quantity of housing needed, developers must turn to multi-unit buildings. Although rising construction costs, supply chain anomalies, new high interest rates and restrictive zoning laws all conspire against the creation of new housing, the construction of a quality residential unit in a metropolitan area today as a wise long-term investment.

Many studies suggest that the initial premium cost of building Passive House standards is between 3 and 5 percent. This has deterred many developers, but the initial cost is only half the story. Jared Lachapelle, vice president of preconstruction at Consigli Construction, said, “Although our data shows a 3.2 percent cost premium for newly constructed Passive House high-rise apartments, the actual life cycle cost is about a dollar less per square foot.”

A 2021 report by the Passive House Network and Steven Winter Associates shows that these premiums can be reduced by an experienced developer, architect and construction team. “The cost premium goes down as the experience goes up,” Deborah Moelis, principal of Handel Architects, told me. “An experienced team can solve problems more efficiently and be able to integrate high-performance concepts and materials more easily.”

Local and state incentives can further reduce initial cost barriers. In Massachusetts, Mass Save incentives offer thousands of dollars for each unit of a Passive House building. With these incentives, the development team at The Finch in Cambridge was able to reduce the cost premium to about 1 percent of the original non-Passive House baseline. Many other states also offer similar programs, and federal incentives are offered through the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act.

Responding to developers’ urgent needs, Passive House design can ensure that the house we build will be compact, efficient, durable and economically profitable.

We need a low carbon footprint: Buildings account for about 30 percent of US carbon emissions, and multi-family residences are responsible for about half of that amount. The Passive House principles are probably the biggest lever we can use to solve the problem. In a 2015 guidebook for developers, the New York Passive House states that the reduction of energy use is approximately 90 percent for heating and cooling and 75 percent in general with the use of techniques in Passive House.

Building and energy codes increasingly focus on reducing carbon emissions by mandating all electrical systems and tighter building envelopes, making Passive House construction more attractive. Passive House construction “super-insulates” the outer envelope of the building. Because of this, Passive House homes require less heating in winter and less cooling in summer, thus using less energy, which reduces carbon in the atmosphere.

Informed millennials are starting to look at the total cost of renting or owning, not just the upfront cost. Looking to lower their own carbon footprint, they are looking for homes designed to promote a better environment and a healthier lifestyle.

Putting it all together: In Kansas City, Mo., Arnold Development Group took this enlightened approach at Second & Delaware, one of the largest multi-family Passive House buildings in the world. “During the planning stages, we concluded that residents are generally not willing to pay more to live in a ‘green building,’ but they also don’t expect to pay less,” principal Jonathan told me. Arnold.

Realizing that utility costs would be greatly reduced, Arnold rented apartments with utilities included and used the extra income from the savings to fund a better building envelope.

By offering a highly sustainable building with improved thermal comfort for the same cost as a conventional building, Arnold and his team were able to achieve full occupancy of the third part in the time normally required, and at rates that exceed the underwriter’s projections.

Passive House design significantly reduces carbon emissions over the life of a building, offers a higher rate of return in the building’s life cycle, and provides better indoor air quality, quieter acoustics and lower utility bills. This is an effective strategy for alleviating our housing shortage while preserving our environment and building for the long term.

John H. Martin is a principal at Elkus Manfredi Architects and a fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

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