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Inside a Bushwick Passive House Construction Site

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"We definitely have something to prove," architect Chris Benedict told a group of young architects and interested neighborhood observers at the 424 Melrose Street construction site this morning. Although it's currently little more than a large hole in the ground and the shell of about a third of a cellar, 424 Melrose will soon be a 24-unit apartment building and, hopefully, one of New York City's first certified passive houses. Not only that, but Benedict and her team are building it at no additional cost, which is to say that construction costs are the same as they would be for a non-passive, similarly sized building in the area. The city's first certified passive house was a converted single-family brownstone in Park Slope, but Benedict says that certifications are less of a challenge to meet for both new construction and multi-family buildings. Still, it won't be easy—in order to meet the annual heat requirement of 15 kilowatt hour per square meter per year, the building will have to be heavily insulated and almost completely airtight (Benedict calls it "the pinnacle of tightness.")

One challenge that the project will face is that the building can't be oriented due south, which would maximize its ability to capture solar energy. In addition, neighboring buildings may block the sun from reaching certain parts of the building. As a result, Benedict anticipates that lower floors may have to be heated via radiator while the radiators in upper floor apartments remain off. Each room will feature separate thermostatic controls that turn on and off automatically to keep the apartment at a comfortable temperature while not expending any more energy than necessary. Another problem is with the solar panel array that will be fixed on top of the building. In order to prevent the panels from casting a shadow on one another, they need to be spaced apart. Consequently, the roof will only have room for 14 panels, which will provide approximately 40 percent of the heat for the building's water only. As the panels will cost $100,000 altogether, Benedict doesn't believe they'll be worth the price. For updates throughout the process of construction and rigorous passive house certification testing, follow Benedict on Twitter.
· Brooklyn Getting Two More Passive House Apartment Buildings [Curbed]
· Official website: Chris Benedict [architectureandenergylimited.com]
· Passive House coverage [Curbed]