What is the “New Gravity”? While our buildings and building codes must follow the laws of gravity, we should also be designing resilient and low impact buildings, prepared to withstand the changes in our climate. Climate change is our “New Gravity” because the effects are already impacting us all.
Designing and constructing high-performance buildings is an essential step in lowering our city’s carbon footprint and addressing the root causes of climate change. At the conference, we heard case studies and lessons learned from constructing above code, multi-family affordable housing. Aiming for Passive House, net zero, Enterprise Green Communities, LEED, and Energy Star goals create clear objectives for reducing the built environment’s impact on society at large.
Throughout the three-day event, a few key themes emerged. Here are our 5 key takeaways.
Constructing a zero-energy building will require a renewable energy component. However, as we heard from Jon Jensen, Director of Sustainability at McGrann Associates, we should “optimize the cost of efficiency versus the cost of renewable energy.” Energy modeling backs up an intuitive idea - the more savings to be had through deep efficiency, the less renewable energy is necessary to power the project. When it comes to affordable housing, deep efficiency, like what is gained through Passive House design, dramatically reduces operating costs, thus lowering the utility bills for residents and improves comfort overall.
High-performance building is not the norm. When faced with a team of developers, builders, contractors, and everything in between, it can be a challenge to get buy-in from the entire project team, but this is an essential first step. Too often, midway through construction, a project will hit a snag due to confusion or misunderstandings from the project team. High-performance certification criteria can often scare developers and contractors for this reason. Lay everything on the table, from the costs, to the new technology, the materials, and timing. Make sure everyone is on board from the very beginning of the project to save time in the end.
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) is a state-affiliated agency that allocates low-income tax credits based on the Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP). PHFA has been a pioneer for ensuring that energy efficiency is part of the selection criteria for providing federal funding. Starting in 2003, PHFA began allocating points for above code insulation. In 2015, under the leadership of Holly Glauser, PHFA amended the QAP to require the use of Enterprise Green Communities Criteria for proposals and assigned 10 points to projects pursuing Passive House. While other states struggle to add (or keep) Passive House in the QAP selection criteria, Holly Glauser, the Director of Development for PHFA, says it is “here to stay”. However, she added a small disclaimer, reminding us that PHFA does a continuous evaluation of its programs, and underscored the importance of advocacy in this movement.
We need building experts speaking out for better, more sustainable building codes and standards locally, statewide, and nationally. Because of the advocacy work from a broad coalition including code officials, Passive House designers, LEED practitioners, builders, and more, Pennsylvania updated its building codes from 2009 to 2015 International Codes for multifamily and commercial buildings. An even stronger push from our Philadelphia communities resulted in a one-time jump ahead to 2018 codes for commercial buildings. This code adoption raises the floor for our standards, bringing above code design a little closer to the norm.
At the close of the conference, we heard ideas for direct actions that we can take to scale up and push the industry to move towards high-performance building such as Passive House. The majority of the actions we heard all came down to spreading the word.
Bring 10 friends to next year’s New Gravity Housing Conference - don’t just talk within your own circles. Reach out to your contacts that don’t engage with sustainability.
Messaging and marketing - tailor messaging to your audiences when sharing Passive House news and design.
Meet people where they are - engage with the industry by attending and presenting at large-mainstream conferences.