Case Study: Landmarked Passive House

New York-based studio, Baxt Ingui revitalized a brownstone in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, converting a two-family residence into a single family home. The original exterior detail at the front façade remained intact, tying the structure to its historical fabric. The interior historic detail had been previously removed, providing a blank slate to design an open and contemporary layout that expanded and maximized the square footage. The clients—a family of four—were seeking function and comfort, and they emphasized the need for natural light and an open flow between multiple living spaces. Their goal was simple: build a home that was healthy and as energy efficient as possible.

When the owner asked for an energy‐efficient home, Baxt Ingui proposed the idea of the Passive House. Passive House is a method of building that is hyper‐insulated, air‐tight, and water‐tight, and therefore drastically reduces mechanical load requirements. In exchange for air‐tightness, an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) gets installed, which improves indoor air quality and makes for a healthier home. A Passive House also requires triple‐glazed windows constructed to a high standard of air‐tightness. In this case, Zola’s American Heritage SDH (simulated double hung) Thermo Wood windows were installed that have been approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Finally, structural and framing sequencing is required as it is installed in conjunction with the air/vapor barrier, and the project needs extensive collaboration among all parties involved.

Ultimately, what sold the owner on a Passive House was not the prospect of lowering mechanical bills. It was the fact that a passive house would increase their overall quality of life in their home: a quieter environment, fresh air and better air quality, thermal comfort, and overall building durability and longevity of a moisture‐controlled home. Because Passive House building is still a relatively new concept, Baxt Ingui recommended that all implementers and subcontractors be informed and engaged in the expectations, methods, and applications of Passive House standards from the onset of the process, as many aspects are addressed very early on. The general contractor took Passive House Certified Installer courses, and all colleagues at the architectural firm took the Passive House Certified Designer courses. Baxt also created an open collaboration between the in‐house team, contractors, engineers, consultants, and Passive House Certifiers with weekly on‐site meetings to create details that were more efficient and more effective with every step of the way.

At the end of the project, the hard work, attention to detail, and collaboration paid off. The Passive House Institute in Germany certified 20 Garden Place as the first passive house designated by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission in July of 2015. The project also won the 2016 Building Brooklyn Award for Historic Restoration and the 2016 AIA Brooklyn and Queens Excellence Awards.

Connect with this project and Zola’s American Heritage SDH product on Dwell and Houzz.