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

Phius and Housing Equity: We Can Do This

What do we mean when we say equity in housing? Is it providing a place for all unhoused populations to live? Is it creating enough resources so that everyone has housing security, no matter their class, race, or age? What about high quality housing?

Finch Cambridge, an affordable housing project that won Best Overall Project in Phius' 2020 Design Competion.

Finch Cambridge, an affordable housing project that won Best Overall Project in Phius’ 2020 Design Competion.

Homes and apartments built to the Phius standard are airtight, energy efficient, super insulated, and low maintenance. They are comfortable, quiet, and provide a quality of life. These dwellings provide hard-to-find clean, high quality air, because the ventilation brings in fresh, filtered air and exhausts the stale air, something the coronavirus pandemic has shown is essential to mitigate spread of the virus. Better indoor air quality produces better health outcomes for people with chronic conditions like asthma.

Does your definition of housing equity include the quality of housing? It does for Phius.

Comfortable, well-built, and sustainable homes do not have to be for only the upper class. This is a policy issue. The cities and states of our country owe it to low-income citizens to provide them with a home that keeps them safe, does not strain their finances, and improves their quality of life. Affordable multifamily passive housing has proven time and again that it can be achieved at the same cost as a less sustainable or less reliable home. Single-family homes are being delivered at costs that range from 5 to 10 percent more than conventional buildings. Everyone should live in housing that is reliable and resilient.

Affordable housing, how do we define that? Usually it means housing built for lower-income individuals and families, those on a tight budget. It should also mean housing that is affordable to maintain and to heat or cool. It is not affordable if the occupants have to make a choice between paying for food and paying their utility bills. Multifamily buildings built to the Phius standard use 40-60% less energy than a comparable building built to code, resulting in similar reductions to utility bills.

Homes built to the Phius standard are resilient and reliable. In 2021, the state of Texas froze when its power grid failed. The information from the passive houses we have from Texas show that the temperatures in the building never came close to freezing. Families would have been able to stay in their home and no pipes would have burst, saving hundreds if not thousands of dollars in repairs and replacement.

Imagine living in a home that maintains its temperature no matter the season outside; that weathers severe temperature swings, and costs you less money to live in. Did you feel your stress levels lower just a bit? Don’t your children deserve to live like that? Doesn’t everyone’s child deserve that? How about your parents too?

The infrastructure can be created. This country can do it for its people.

How do we do this? Reach out to your city council, to the people who represent you on the most local level, to educate them about the benefits of passive building to the community.

Many states, like Massachusetts and New York, already have incentives for energy efficient homes. In Pennsylvania, 7 Phius certified projects, representing over 350 units of affordable housing, have been built and shown to be cost-effective. Incentives in Massachusetts have led to the construction of 8 Phius low-income projects with almost 550 units. These projects have come in at between 1.5% and 2.8% above building code. Massachusetts, building on this success, just passed a progressive energy bill that will push it’s already progressive buildings sector forward.

The change is possible and we all deserve it, including those who never even seem to get a piece of the pie.

Policy Update: The Massachusetts Stretch

isaac pic

Isaac Elnecave, a member of the PHIUS certification team, has written this update on the Massachusetts stretch cove, the latest installment of his policy updates.

Over the last 8 years, Massachusetts has made significant progress towards making the passive house (PHIUS+) standard an integral part of its building energy code. This effort points the way to the end goal of creating a cost-effective net-zero energy code.

Besides its statewide base energy code, which is an amended version of the latest International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) model code, the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) in Massachusetts has, since 2009, promulgated a “stretch” energy code. The base energy code governs the minimum energy saving requirements in buildings throughout the state. The requirements include: the amount of insulation required in ceilings, walls and foundations; window performance; the level of air tightness; ventilation requirements; the efficacy of lighting and the efficiency of HVAC equipment. It is often described as the worst possible building (from an energy perspective) that can legally be built.

A stretch energy code incorporates similar measures and design approaches but mandates energy efficiency requirements that result in higher performance buildings than those meeting the base energy code. While the base energy code is the default requirement across all towns and cities in the Commonwealth, the stretch energy code must be affirmatively adopted by local municipalities that want to enforce it (at which point, it supplements and overrides the base energy code in that jurisdiction). Importantly, unlike New York State, because the BBRS approves the stretch code, municipalities that adopt it cannot amend it.

In both the Base and Stretch codes in Massachusetts, there is a section for alternative compliance strategies, which specifically includes passive house in both the low-rise residential energy code chapter and the commercial energy code chapter. Under the requirements of its current edition, and in fact since 2012, in any jurisdiction that adopts the stretch code in Massachusetts, a PHIUS+ certified passive house automatically meets code. The current code amendments specify that the annual heating demand for PHIUS certified home or commercial building must be less than 10 kbtu/ft2/year; a value easily met by all certified PHIUS buildings.

The latest edition of the Massachusetts stretch code has just been adopted but has not yet been promulgated* — the expected promulgation date is February 8, 2020 with an effective date of Aug 8, 2020. There will be two significant changes. First, PHIUS itself has updated its standard to PHIUS + 2018 from PHIUS + 2015. Second, with this new edition, a residential or commercial building will be code compliant when it passes the pre-certification stage (much like saying a typical house is given code approval once the plans have been approved.) The updated energy code, based on the IECC 2018, shifts the passive house compliance option from the 10 kBtu/ft2/year metric to an option to seek PHIUS precertification prior to pulling a permit. A project must demonstrate that it has been submitted for final certification by PHIUS to receive the certificate of occupancy. Because PHIUS maintains a rigorous review process through the end of construction, this approach ensures a high quality of construction.

Passive house certification requirements are significantly more stringent than even the other alternative paths in the stretch code (the most commonly used path in the Massachusetts residential stretch code allows for an Energy Rating Index score of 55, which is well above the score typically achieved by a certified passive house).

Massachusetts provides an excellent example of how to use incentives to spur the development of high-performance buildings. Mass Save®, the statewide energy efficiency program in Massachusetts, launched a mid- to high-rise passive house incentive program in the summer of 2019. In the first 6 months over 40 projects with over 3,000 passive house units in development have signed up for the program.  As more projects are built meeting PHIUS standards either through the stretch code or through Mass Save, the universe of designers and builders who become proficient in the construction of high-performance builders grows. This proficiency will result in greater confidence among construction professionals and lower costs with respect to high performance buildings.

As the PHIUS standard includes a pathway to net-zero construction, including it in the stretch and base energy code provides a path for future improvements. In Massachusetts, stretch code development will now focus on a ‘net-zero’ code to run alongside an amended IECC 2021 base code. Having the passive house pathway in the energy codes has introduced designers and builders to the tools and techniques necessary for building cost-effective net-zero single-family and multi-family dwelling. PHIUS looks forward to working with Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, BBRS and other key stakeholders in making a net-zero code a reality.

Massachusetts in one of three states and one municipality that have incorporated the PHIUS standard in the energy code. New York was discussed in a previous blog (Policy Update: New York State, Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, January 16, 2020). I’ll discuss efforts in Washington State and the city of Denver in a future post.

* Adoption means voting and signing by government official. Promulgation (it specifically means the decree that puts a law into effect), in practice, refers to when the agency in charge of enforcing the law signs off on the rules and regulations relating to the law.

 

Tierra Linda Brings Affordable Passive Housing to Chicago

Some forward-thinking architects and community groups have partnered with PHIUS to bring the benefits of passive building to the affordable housing market in Chicago.

Landon Bone Baker Architects (LBBA) and the Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA) held a public tour of the Tierra Linda passive house project on Wed., June 20. The tour drew a crowd of nearly 150 architects, designers, writers and curious neighbors.

While the project is well under way and set to be completed in October, city regulations nearly thwarted the idea in its early stages.

“Initially the city was skeptical about the passive house design,” said LBBA architect Dominik Soltys, “but once we explained to them what it would mean for the community then they were more receptive.”

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Other homes in the housing project are Energy Star rated, a more relaxed rating than the PHIUS+ certification, but cheaper upfront. ComEd will be monitoring the energy usage on the passive building against the Energy Star buildings to evaluate and compare actual energy performance.

The adoption of passive building design is growing exponentially in the affordable housing sector, with some states having already included passive building certification as part of their process of awarding tax credits for affordable projects.

According the the United States Federal Reserve, one in two renters in the City of Chicago is rent burdened, meaning that more than 30 percent of their income is spent on housing costs such as rent, utilities and repairs. Passive building is a perfect match for affordable projects, because it significantly reduces and attunes utility bills.

The 6-flat PHIUS+ certified building is located at 1812 N Drake Ave., in the center of a scattered development site in Chicago’s West Side. If all goes according to plan, the Tierra Linda project will be the first PHIUS+ certified multifamily  building in the state of Illinois. Before residents can move in, for quality assurance purposes, third-party PHIUS+ raters and verifiers will perform tests on the building to ensure that it is airtight and able to maintain a healthy air quality.

Lindsey Elton, Director of Rating Services at Eco Achievers, is in charge of testing the Tierra Linda project. During the tour, the PHIUS+ rater said she is excited for the future of passive building, and looking forward to being a part of this affordable housing project.

“We’re growing, PHIUS is growing. We’re pushing the envelope, no pun intended,” said Elton. “Your path to net zero is a part of our conversation.”

10th Annual NAPHC – best party of the year, maybe ever…

Wow – was that a successful conference! It has been a week and I am still processing it all. Chicago was unlike any other conference — things did not slow down in the office after it was all over, they rather accelerated. It indeed appears we have reached a tipping point.

From more than one person I heard that it seemed that the quality of work, detailing expertise and technical knowledge, size of projects and complexity of building types had reached a new high. And, compared to the early years, we were not just talking theory and intentions—but what people had done! Really impressive.

LEFT: Dr. Hartwig Künzel giving the Day 2 Keynote -- RIGHT: Sebastian Moreno-Vacca participating in the Architects' Hootenanny (L-R: T.McDonlad, T.Smith, J.Moskovitz, Sebastian, ?)

LEFT: Dr. Hartwig Künzel giving the Day 2 Keynote — RIGHT: Sebastian Moreno-Vacca participating in the Architects’ Hootenanny including (l-r): T.McDonald, T.Smith, J.Moskovitz, Sebastian, C.Hawbecker)

New modeling tools such as WUFI Passive (Technical keynote Hartwig Künzel, day two) are making building science interrelationships more visible and intuitively understandable. WUFI Passive is enabling CPHCs to optimize designs using “hygrothermal mass” (ever heard of that?) to optimize humidity loads and even to inform design decisions overall (as Sebastian Moreno-Vacca illustrated in his session) to create a unique architectural language! How cool is that! Science, heat fluxes and thermal dynamics begin to shape architectural form.

Dirk Lohan, Principal, Lohan Anderson -- Welcomes conference attendees to Chicago

Dirk Lohan, Principal, Lohan Anderson — Welcomes conference attendees to Chicago

Dirk Lohan—Mies Vander Rohe’s grandson, and an extremely accomplished architect in his own right—hinted at this development during his welcoming remarks.

“I believe that we will begin to see as beautiful what also is energy-conscious,” said Lohan.

Supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

But maybe the most significant news is the explosive development in the multifamily affordable housing sector. It is seeing significant growth, interest and pilot developments going up in many places of the country. Thanks to the support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, we were able to make this our core topic for the conference and will be able to actively provide support to the affordable development community.

The pre-conference sessions included a daylong affordable housing Hootenanny that brought together successful affordable, multifamily housing project teams together who generously shared lessons learned and experience. Four different project teams presented during an intense full day. The morning and afternoon presentations drew full rooms of affordable housing developers who soaked up the information and had terrific, incisive questions

The same teams presented again during the core conference breakouts in a more condensed form for those who were unable to attend the hootenanny. In addition, there were more presentations on even bigger size affordable projects in progress:

  • A 101 unit affordable development in New York now under construction in the Rockaways (Steve Bluestone, Bluestone Org.)
  • A planned affordable retrofit of a 24 story historical brick building in Chicago (Doug Farr, Tony Holub from Farr and Assoc.), the Lawson House.
  • 24 story residence hall under construction in NYC (Matt Herman, BuroHappold)
L-R: Steve Bluestone presenting with Lisa White, Doug Farr, Matthew Herman

L-R: Steve Bluestone presenting with Lisa White, Doug Farr, Matthew Herman

Really amazing stuff.

Katherine Swenson

Katherine Swenson, Vice President, National Design Initiatives for Enterprise Community Partners — Day 1 Opening Keynote

Of course this growth has been fueled by forward-looking programs that recognize that energy efficient homes make so much sense for affordable housing developers/owners and dwellers. Katie Swenson from the Enterprise Foundation was a breath of fresh air–dynamic, positive, and motivating opening keynote. She explained that in her and her organization’s eyes energy is a critical part in assuring not just housing for people—but healthy housing! “Health is the new green,” she said, and of course passive housing delivers here with excellent comfort, indoor air quality and the added bonus of resiliency when the power goes out. Katie announced that the Green Communities criteria had just included PHIUS+ 2015 certification as one of the highest energy point options.

Other affordable housing agencies also have made a move: the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) awarded bonus points in its last round of selecting projects for Low Income Housing Tax Credits. More recently the New York State Homes & Community Renewal (HCR) effort was mentioned in a release regarding energy efficiency measures from the White House. Those agencies now directly encourage passive building standards in their RFPs. Remarkable!

Sam Rashkin, U.S. D.O.E. -- Closing Plenary Keynote

Sam Rashkin, U.S. D.O.E. — Closing Plenary Keynote

On the other coast. Seattle just amended their multifamily building code to allow additional floor area ration (FAR) for projects that meet the PHIUS+ 2015 criteria. That’s a significant incentive for developers.

Things are cookin’!

The core conference, as usual, was chock full of goodness. There were examples of how the new PHIUS+ 2015 climate specific passive building standards helped to optimize costs both here in North America (presentations by Chicago’s Tom Bassett-Dilley, Dan Whitmore, and) and internationally (Günther Gantolier from Italy). There were nuts-and-bolts presentations on wall assembly solutions (Tom Bassett-Dilley again), air and water barrier best practices (Marcus and Keith). And, the Builders Hootenanny—led by Hammer & Hand’s Sam Hagerman, focused on component challenges such as sourcing airtight FDA approved doors for commercial construction.

The U.S. DOE’s Sam Rashkin closed the conference with an unexpected message: he suggested that we needed to rename a few things to facilitate behavioral change. He posited that ZERH, LEED, PHIUS and other green building programs are essentially fossil fuel use rehab centers trying to rehabilitate an addicted nation and to show how it can be done differently. He received a standing ovation.

A few more comments on pre-conference workshops – three WUFI Passive classes drew almost 80 people and they all were super happy throughout the two days! Who would have thought! Happy people energy modeling!

LEFT: Marc Rosenbaum's lecture on Renewables -- RIGHT: Joe Lstiburek on Multifamily Building Science & HVAC

LEFT: Marc Rosenbaum’s lecture on Renewables — RIGHT: Joe Lstiburek on Multifamily Building Science & HVAC

Marc Rosenbaum single-handedly won first place in registering the most people for his class to connect passive principles with renewables to get to positive energy buildings (the logical next step).

Joe Lstiburek placed a close second (sorry Joe) and did a phenomenal job in covering ventilation concerns in large multifamily buildings. Rachel Wagner showed the most awesome cold climate details that I have ever seen. Galen Staengl took folks on a spin to design multifamily and commercial mechanical systems.

And Gary Klein topped it all off by reminding us that without efficient hot water systems design in multifamily, no cigar!

Thanks to all presenters and keynotes! You made this an excellent and memorable event.

I have not even mentioned the first North American Passive Building Project Awards—the entries were just beautiful projects—check out the winners here. I must mention the overall Best Project winner of 2015, as I believe this is pivotal: Orchards at Orenco. What a beautiful project, the largest fully certified PHIUS+ project in the country to date, a game-changer, underlining affordable multifamily projects on the rise.

I’m extremely happy that the Best Projects winners for young CPHC/architects was a tie, and both winners are women! Congrats to Barbara Gehrung and Tessa Smith! Go girls, you are the next generation of leaders!

L-R: Best Overall Project: Orchards at Orenco; Best Project by CPHC under 35 (tie): Island Passive House, Tessa Smith; Best Project by CPHC under 35 (tie): ECOMod South, Barbara Gehrung

L-R: Best Overall Project: Orchards at Orenco; Best Project by CPHC under 35 (tie): Island Passive House, Tessa Smith; Best Project by CPHC under 35 (tie): ECOMod South, Barbara Gehrung

One last note on a thing: Passive building people know how to party while devouring the most challenging, inspiring energy science, details, philosophies (Jevons paradox – Zack Semke’s fascinating lunch keynote) from the field.

And the architectural boat tour on Saturday to top it all off was almost surreal. When we were all out on Lake Michigan and the fireworks went off over the magnificent skyline, I thought, “that’s how we roll :).” Plus, the docent from the Chicago Architecture Foundation was a font of information, and even long-time Chicagoans learned a lot along the way. If you weren’t there, you missed the best passive building party of the year, maybe ever. (But we’ll try to top it, promise.)

Finally, for the crew that just can’t get enough, the Passive Projects Tour on Sunday was, as always, an enormous hit. Tom Bassett-Dilley and Brandon Weiss put together an array of completed and in-progress projects that generated a buzz at every stop. Thanks to Tom and Brandon and to PHA-Chicago for all your help!

Cheers!

Kat