Breakthrough Project Aims to Bring Flood of Zero-Energy Housing to Milwaukee

 

 

Shilpa 12Shilpa Sankaran is a consultant driving adoption of innovations in the built environment and the health of the planet, societies, and people. She is currently an advisor to the City of Milwaukee, who is spearheading a breakthrough public-private partnership in offsite affordable, zero-energy housing production. Previously, Shilpa was the Executive Director of the Net Zero Energy Coalition, co-founder of the REALIZE prefabricated zero energy retrofit model, and co-founder of ZETA Communities, a modular zero energy buildings fabricator in Sacramento.

In the wake of a global crisis, a cocktail of pandemic, economic distress, political turmoil, and heightened awareness of social inequity, we sit in the still point of opportunity for change.

Cue the City of Milwaukee. This city has seen its share of change — including economic and social trauma from the depletion of its manufacturing culture — and it has shown amazing resilience through grit and innovation. Now, we see revitalized and thriving new neighborhoods, innovation in water and sustainability, and new industries popping up throughout the city.

MilwaukeeMilwaukee, led by Mayor Tom Barrett and the City’s Environmental Collaboration Office (ECO), is spearheading a project that could bring back the original spirit of the city, and serve as a model for other cities around the country. The City is seeking a partner to locate a factory that will build zero-energy housing as part of public-private social enterprise.

On the surface, this may sound like just another construction solution, but Milwaukee sees it as so much more. This one solution will create income opportunities and green skills development for the residents of one of the most economically depressed areas in the country. These very residents will also have new home ownership opportunities, and will be able to proudly support their own health and the health of the planet with zero energy homes. Local manufacturing will take place in this same area — the 30th Street corridor — restoring a culture of industry, while revitalizing the neighborhood.

The goal is to target Phius Certification for all buildings, which requires certification under EPA ENERGY STAR, DOE Zero Energy Ready Homes and EPA Indoor airPLUS as co-requisite programs.

To attract an aligned partner, the City of Milwaukee is deeply committed to lowering barriers to entry and supporting the long-term success of a factory partner with financial, training, pipeline, and policy and codes support.

The first step is garnering industry interest through a Request for Information (RFI) which is due on July 12th. Later this summer, a Request For Proposal (RFP) will be issued, and the hope is to secure a partnership by the end of 2021 or early 2022. Following the design and construction of demonstration unit(s), the goal is to open the factory for full production by 2023.

If you are interested in participating in this process, please submit your Intent to Respond, and respond to the short RFI by July 12th. The RFI can be found here.

On International Climate-Specific Passive Projects

Andres-vert3Phius Certification Team Member Andres Pinzon, PhD, explores the process of passive projects being built outside of the United States.

“Qué es una casa pasiva?” reads the cover of the drawing set of the Merlot House, a project submitted by CPHC Ignacio López pursuing PHIUS+ 2018 certification in Baja California-Mexico. This project — the first in this country — adds to the growing interest of Phius certification across latitudes.

During a regular week at Phius, we move between reviews on different climate zones, building functions and building types, assessing data from residential and non-residential, new construction, or retrofit. 

At first sight, the path toward certification may look intimidating, and we at Phius know that. Our team offers guidance and support for project submitters, especially when working on their first projects (overseas or not). The reviewers go above and beyond in helping project teams meet the specific, wide-ranged, and performance-driven goals of their buildings. This process offers achievable steps for certification within the context of each project.

How does Phius do it? The process includes: rounds of review, real-time feedback, conference calls, online open resources, etc. Phius tailors this process by providing solutions in compliance with certification, looking for red flags, and pointing out paths to avoid. This allows us to work with clients, architects, engineers, building scientists, etc. on the critical aspects of certifying a project in a particular part of the world.

Here are some remarks from our experience working with projects submitted to Phius outside of the mainstream of US and Canada.

The first step is generally custom climate data, followed by calculating the project-specific performance targets. Using the appropriate climate data and performance targets are essential to accurately modeling and reducing energy loads. Phius generates custom climate datasets for project teams that accurately represent their current project’s location. For most locations, we have not had trouble finding a TMY3 station within a (80-km) 50-mile range.  

In addition to climate data, marginal costs of electricity ($/kWh) at the regional/national level are needed to calculate the custom space conditioning targets they will use for certification. With this, teams can begin to work on comprehensive design and energy modeling; aware of the demands and loads that are expected for their buildings. 

Phius has projects in places such as Japan, Colombia, Nigeria and Mexico, where Phius certification represents a third-party verification on a desired performance for energy use and high-quality housing (see post on Housing Equity). The accumulated experience of different situations helps Phius come up with new solutions for diverse challenges and pass that knowledge to teams in subsequent projects.  

For example, approaches on cooling and dehumidification seen in Phius projects in southern states can guide us on how to tackle larger demands and peak loads in projects in tropical areas of South America or Africa. We see this potential in aspects such as: the enclosure’s insulation and airtightness, shading dimensioning and optimization to avoid overheating, and the proper selection and sizing of mechanical devices.  

Energy and carbon saving targets in buildings and operational budgets are a global concern. However, some information might be lost in translation when moving between countries, languages, cultures, or systems of measurement. In this sense, Phius is working on expanding the limits on a technical language that might hinder the domain of Phius projects.

Phius’ CPHC training is also offered and taught in SI units. In this way, professionals abroad who are interested in earning this credential can have access to material on building science principles, design exercises, and software tutorials prepared in the metric system. Furthermore, WUFI® Passive, the energy modeling software used for Phius certification, allows users to easily toggle between SI and IP units any time during the process.

More actions are in development within the idea of expanding the Phius community abroad. It is exciting to see creative and innovative approaches, integrating different sorts of information to make a high-performance building, such as the “bilingual” drawing set from the Merlot house. I cannot wait to attend the breakout session on international climate-specific passive projects at PhiusCon 2021 to continue the conversation.

Massachusetts Data Shows Phius Projects Achieve Promised Energy Savings at Negligible Cost Premium

isaac picIsaac Elnecave, a member of the PHIUS certification team, has written this post examining data regarding the energy savings of Phius buildings.

From May 5-7, 2021, the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) ran the BuildingEnergy Boston Conference. Among the many can’t-miss sessions there were a number focusing on Phius including: The Proof is in the Project: Cost and Performance of Built Passive Multifamily. This panel focused on both the cost and energy use of multi-family projects built to the Phius standard.

Massachusetts agencies and utilities have established a robust set of incentives that have resulted in a sharp increase in the number of projects built to the Phius standard. Panelists for the NESEA session were: Beverly Craig of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (CEC), Brendan Place of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and Katie Bartolotta of Green Building United. The question addressed by the three presenters in this session was whether the projected energy savings from building to the Phius standard does, in fact, materialize, and whether it can be achieved cost-effectively.   

The CEC ran the “Passive House Design Challenge” that provided incentives for eight projects around the Commonwealth. A second incentive program is open for multi-family buildings of 4 stories or more. An incremental cost analysis of four of the eight projects that have moved far enough along (including one project that has been completed) to get cost data shows that these projects:  

 

  • Have an incremental cost range from 1.4% to 2.8%. (For completed projects and projects that have gone out to bid). 

 

According to an analysis by DOER, projects built to the Phius standard:  

 

  • Use 60% less energy than a comparable project built to the energy code. 

 

Cost Blog Chart 6.7.21This data, along with data from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority and NYSERDA, dispels the myth that the energy savings, health benefits and resiliency that come with Phius projects come at an unacceptably high cost. Instead, the incremental costs are within the range of costs for these types of multi-family projects. Finally, as developers build more Phius projects, spurred by these incentives, they gain the experience and knowledge necessary to reduce construction costs reflected in the results shown above. 

Ultimately, once a sufficient number of developers, architects, and builders gain experience and comfort building to the Phius standard and the cost and energy savings information becomes more widespread, we expect to see the number of projects built to the Phius standard increase. 

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How Onion Flats in Driving NZE Affordable Housing Nationwide

 https://gettingtozeroforum.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/10/ZER0_OnionFlats.pdf

Within the following website, there is detailed information on the incremental cost of high performing buildings including Phius. 

 https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/Multifamily-Buildings-of-Excellence/Winners

Early morning decarb musings…from the bottom up…join the conversation!

Note: After contributions from a number of fantastic guest bloggers, Katrin Klingenberg makes her return to the Klingenblog to give readers an inside look at her quest to achieve carbon neutrality both in her own life, as well as with her work at Phius.

It is June of 2021. Sipping my morning tea, reflecting. It has been a year of thought and reassessment and remembrance, letting go of the old ways…quiet before the storm…I feel grateful almost …the pandemic was harsh…training wheels for what is to come…are we ready?

In interviews with journalists, I often get asked: what was/is your core motivation? Why did you start Phius?

And my response is always along these lines: “I was looking for carbon neutrality in all aspects of my life; to take personal responsibility in light of a crisis, wanting to do my share, love and respect for the commons, a desire to distribute resources fairly so that all people can live in peace, balance and harmony.”

And then, as an architect, I recognized that buildings represent a big chunk of our global carbon emissions. Phius was my chance to be part of the solution. My professional commitment since 2002: I could no longer continue to add to the planetary carbon bill with my work. That effectively meant setting up every building to be capable of achieving zero and positive energy.

Climate change is an existential crisis that no one will be able to talk their way out of. There are no planet hospitals with a line out the door that impress on us how bad this is, no healthcare providers ringing the alarm. Well, actually…scientists and environmentalists have been sounding the alarm since the 60s. Society stuck its head in the sand and decided on doing fossil fuel biz as usual as if there was no tomorrow (pun intended). Consequently, we are really up against the wall now. We need courageous, superhuman really, political will and global consensus, turning every conventional notion of how things used to work upside down. We need a fast and effective campaign to inoculate our economies against the effects of shifting away from fossil fuels as fast as possible, just as fast and successful as the COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

The good news: Carbon neutrality is within reach. We are so close. That was our goal on our inaugural website in the mid 2000s. The Passive House Institute US declared its mission: making passive building standards code by 2020. 

For all intents and purposes, check! We effectively have achieved that goal in places that matter a lot, not as mandatory code but in the form of programs, incentives, local laws, alternative compliance paths: New York City, the State of Massachusetts, Washington State, Washington DC. And we initiated ASHRAE 227p. So, yes, on our way, check!!!!

And in its 2021 standards update, Phius made a very important decision – the flagship certification, while the zero energy passive baseline still exists – is now the Phius ZERO certification. I am so proud of our team, how far we have come as a community and how patiently we have built this shift together over the last 20 years. It is a marathon, not a sprint — sound familiar?

But we need to pick up the pace. Turning the entire building industry around is only step one. Even if we eventually build all new construction to our proven standards, decarbonize all buildings through deep retrofits, and decarbonize the energy supply, we still urgently need everybody’s help from the bottom up to take action.

That’s really what I’d like to discuss here. Start a discussion about meaningful personal action that can be taken by anyone who chooses to go in on this really important mission.

I’ll go first. Since all this has been a driving force in my entire life really, it has shaped my life path and my choices. Carbon neutrality requires rethinking and changing a few things.

In 2002, I decided that if I truly believed in the commons and fair share of resource distribution for everyone, I would have to walk the walk. 

I tried to determine the standard of living that could be attained by everyone in an equitable society while also meeting the carbon reduction goals required to adapt to and mitigate climate change. That meant reassessing everything in my life: where do my actions and life contribute to the problem and how can I fix it? Once you start thinking about it in this way it really ripples through everything. 

Let’s start with money. We all need to earn money to run our lives. Our economies run on oil. Every dollar in our pocket essentially represents wealth generated in some form by fossil fuels. The more dollars any one of us has, the more emissions you are essentially responsible for in your daily life transactions (carbon footprint by wealth category is another interesting topic, another blog). I decided to limit the money I was going to earn. And I decided to put the money I did earn back into the non-profit Phius to support market transformation toward zero energy buildings. 

I then, step by step, dialed in my living circumstances: how much space I was able to live in to stay within my fair-share space conditioning emissions budget, how much land around my house there should be and how I was going to use it (farming), my choice of car, vacation and travel miles, food choices…all had to be reassessed.

It was a process. But I’m happy to report that in 2021, reflecting over morning tea, I feel good. I feel really, really good about having achieved what I set out to do…at least in my personal life.

Smith House

Smith House

With little money to my name and no job at the time, I embarked in 2002 on building the Smith House like there was going to be no tomorrow if I did not do it. It was scary, but it turns out, where there is a will there is a way. 

The Smith House, 1000 sq ft, meant for three people, was built for being zero energy ready. In 2018, I finally added a 5 kW PV system, taking the house and about 10K electric car miles per year (a car which I don’t have yet) off the planetary carbon bill. 

What I overproduce in Urbana “pays” for my condo living in the city (since I am not using overproduction to drive). I never turn my heat or air conditioning on. It’s a small, but nice and comfy apartment, 30 minutes walking distance from everywhere I need to go. I have not been on planes, trains and automobiles in a long time and if I do get on I am conscious of each mile. 

I changed my diet, essentially vegan plus fish and an occasional egg. Looking at carbon emissions savings from those food choices…turns out they are very significant. I try to avoid the elevator, though, full disclosure, my apartment and office are both on the 14th floor, so that’s a challenge. Down is easier than up, let’s start there.

And…I’d like to deep energy retrofit my condo tower…already have a plan…but that for the time being will have to be done in the future.

What are your stories?

If you are interested in making similar changes, 2000-Watt Society is a great place to start.