net zero

Press in VTDigger : Making it in Vermont: These Vermont homes will move to New York this summer by Paul Castrucci

Making it in Vermont: These Vermont homes will move to New York this summer

by Anne Wallace Allen

Vermod general manager Kristen Connors inside a Vermod home. Photo by Anne Wallace Allen/VTDigger   Editor’s note: Making it in Vermont is an ongoing series by VTDigger’s business reporter Anne Wallace Allen looking at companies and industries driving innovation in the state. If you have ideas about inspiring entrepreneurs or companies, send them to Anne at

Vermod general manager Kristen Connors inside a Vermod home. Photo by Anne Wallace Allen/VTDigger

Editor’s note: Making it in Vermont is an ongoing series by VTDigger’s business reporter Anne Wallace Allen looking at companies and industries driving innovation in the state. If you have ideas about inspiring entrepreneurs or companies, send them to Anne at

A Hartford company is building 13 modular homes that it plans to ship to New York City this summer for a Habitat for Humanity project.

Vermod makes 1,000-square-foot net zero energy homes with solar panels on the roof. The homes have a base price of about $190,000 installed and are designed to return the solar power they generate to the power grid.

The Habitat for Humanity homes will fill 13 small lots scattered through Queens that will be sold to income-qualified buyers through a lottery later this year. Vermod was one of about a dozen modular and prefab home companies that the project leaders considered, said project architect Grayson Jordan, an associate architect with the New York firm Paul A. Castrucci, Architect. The project RFP called for a very energy efficient home.

The New York City job is the most complex assignment yet for Vermod, which was started by Hartford builder Steven Davis as state and local officials sought new affordable housing after Tropical Storm Irene demolished several Vermont mobile home parks in 2011. Davis, who had been building energy-efficiency conventional homes since 2008, built 11 modular homes that fit the specifications for the parks.

“He probably had five employees working there” at the time, said Kristen Connors, Davis’ niece and now the company’s general manager. Davis then moved his company to its existing manufacturing plant in Wilder and now Vermod makes 25 to 40 units per year for homes based on one to four units. It has 15 workers.

The company provided units to build 14 duplexes for an Addison County community put together by Addison County Community Trust and the nonprofit Cathedral Square Corp. housing organization in 2017, and last fall delivered a four-unit home in Massachusetts.

“We looked at a few different models, but this one was better in terms of quality, durability, and energy,” said Cindy Reid, director of development at Cathedral Square, about Vermod. “When we’re developing long-term affordable rental housing, we really need to look at durability and built to last. The quality was just way higher than alternatives.”

While modular homes experience a brief mobility while they’re being shipped to a site, they are designed to be fixed and permanent and they are usually placed on a conventional foundation or on piers. That sets them apart from manufactured homes, which are built on a steel chassis and can be towed even after installation. Vermod works hard to set its products apart from the manufactured variety.

“That’s a bad word for us,” said Ashley Andreas, who explains the homes to prospective customers. “It’s not a trailer home. There’s a legal difference.”

Modular homes are made of wood and must meet all local building codes, said Andreas. Vermod’s homes are clad in vinyl with steel standing-seam roofs cut in the company’s Hartland plant. The interiors are wood with bamboo floors, Energy Star utility systems, and structural insulated panels on the roof.Connors said the company gets most of its materials from Goodro Lumber in Killington.

“We’re trying to change the stigma that surrounds mobile home parks and create a better product that is obtainable, affordable and healthy for anybody no matter what their price point is,” Connors said.

Vermod also created and delivered 13 homes for the Lamoille Housing Partnership’s Evergreen Manor Mobile Home Park.

Connors got involved in the company in 2015 after working in insurance for 13 years. By then, Davis was selling homes as far away as Burlington, Hardwick and Shelburne. At 72 feet long, the full-size structures are slightly longer than most of the modular or other homes that travel by road, and Davis had trailers custom-made by a company in Pennsylvania.

The two model homes at Vermod’s Hartland factory contain wall-size Sonnen batteries that can store the solar energy generated on the roof in case of power outages. The homes in the Addison County project, on a site in Waltham and Vergennes, also contain the batteries, which were installed without charge by Green Mountain Power.

“We had 14 homes producing energy on the grid, and (Green Mountain Power) needs to manage peak times and who is producing and who is drawing,” Reid said. “During peak times they can take solar panels offline and draw from the battery. It was a tool to help the utility and to create resilient homes so if the power does go down, they still have heat and lights.”

Connors expects the New York installation to be the most complex yet.

“They are nestled right in there, one after another. Some sites have trees sitting in front of them; there are electric wires running through the streets,” she said. “My uncle loves complicated projects.”

As with all of Vermod’s projects, the units will be delivered with all finishes and appliances in place. Habitat for Humanity will have poured the foundations, and Connors said it will take a week for each home’s structural, electrical and plumbing connections to be completed.

Also like the others, the New York homes will have rooftop solar panels. While connected to the grid, they are designed to produce at least as much energy as they consume. They will be tall and thin, made of three units on top of each other, with the third box primarily used as roof space.

Habitat for Humanity has signed a letter of intent for the project, and Connors expects construction of the 13 homes to continue over the next two years.

The New York project specifically calls for net zero energy homes. With Vermod, “(we) were working with a system that we felt we could work with that made sense for us, as far as how they built,” Jordan said. “And then another big thing was they are delivering a nearly complete building, versus some of the panelized systems where you get your walls and then you do everything else.”

Vermod also makes sense because labor costs in Wilder are lower than they are in Queens, said Jordan.

“There is a cost in transporting these things and using a crane to erect them, but it is offset by the ability of Vermod – they’re in a factory, so it’s a little more controlled, and that can offset the cost,” Jordan said. “And the other thing is we’re getting a known product from people who are really passionate about energy efficiency; that is another criteria.”

Connors and Davis have talked about franchising and about expanding nationally, but “I think right now the main goal is to perfect our process and just really get good at what we are doing,” she said. “I’d hate to lose sight of our vision.”

RetrofitNY Prequalifies Paul A. Castrucci, Architect and ZeroEnergy Design as a Solution Provider Team for NYSERDA Initiative by Paul Castrucci


For Immediate Release

New York City – May 9, 2018

Paul A. Castrucci, Architect and ZeroEnergy Design are pleased to announce Solution Provider Team partnership and prequalification status for NYSERDA RetrofitNY initiative. RetrofitNY is working to create new solutions to renovate multifamily buildings while achieving or approaching net-zero energy use and creating standardized and scalable processes that will improve residents’ comfort and buildings’ energy performance. NYSERDA’s efforts support Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s ambitious climate goals while improving the quality of life for affordable housing residents.

Through this Request for Proposals (RFP), NYSERDA is qualifying: 1) Solution Provider Teams to design high-performance retrofit solutions that approach or achieve net-zero energy performance for affordable multifamily buildings, and 2) Buildings that meet program requirements for being retrofitted with these solutions. As a prequalified team the firm will have an opportunity to pair up and submit a Joint Project Application to NYSERDA with owners of qualified buildings.  Contracts will be awarded to qualified Team/Building pairs on a first come, first served basis until six contracts are awarded, or until the period for submitting Joint Project Applications expires on October 31, 2018, whichever occurs first.  

RetrofitNY, a NYSERDA initiative, is revolutionizing the way buildings are renovated in New York State. Our goal is to spearhead the creation of standardized, scalable solutions and processes that will improve the aesthetic and comfort of residential buildings while dramatically improving their energy performance. RetrofitNY is working aggressively to bring a large number of affordable housing units to or near net-zero energy use by 2025, and provide new business opportunities in the State of New York. 

ZeroEnergy Design (ZED) was founded with a commitment to deliver high performance for all clients as a best practice. The firm’s Consulting Practice focuses on energy consulting and mechanical design projects ranging from full renovations to new construction for architects, housing authorities, non-profit organizations, institutions, developers, and homeowners.  

Paul A. Castrucci, Architect is an early adapter of Passive House construction having completed R-951, which is New York City’s first Net Zero Capable, Passive House certified residence. The firm has over thirty years of experience in sustainable practices with a focus on affordable residential buildings, arts facilities and community centers. The firm’s body of work reflects the firm’s commitment to sustainability in design and construction. The firm’s projects typically incorporate systems like passive and active solar heating, photovoltaic electricity generation and schemes for natural day lighting and ventilation. 

Press contact:    T. 212.254.7060 x 612

Partnership Organizations

International presentation for Net Zero architecture and ABC No Rio at Paul Castrucci Architect by Paul Castrucci

Wendy Brawer is one of this year's TED fellows and co-developer for award winning R951 Residence. She invited an international group to tour top GreenMap sites.  Wendy Brawer is the creator of the Green Map, a tool that uses distinctive iconography to denote green-living, natural, social, and cultural resources. Locally led in 65 countries, will soon relaunch with a new, open approach to inspire greater action on climate health and environmental justice among residents and travelers alike.

The presentation focused on basic passive house principles, net zero projects and ABC No Rio as one of the first Passive House art spaces.

Press in LifeHacker - Paul A. Castrucci award winning Net Zero Project by Paul Castrucci

R-951’s apartments are large and airy, filled with crisp, bright light from giant windows. The white walls and stainless-steel appliances make the apartment feel minimalist yet cozy. Each unit is 1,500 square feet and comes with its own outdoor space, rare in much of Brooklyn.

R-951 is unique in another way. The building boasts net-zero status, which means each apartment only uses as much energy as it produces. One way it does so is through Passive House design principles, which are used to attain a high level of energy-efficiency. The methodology reduces R-951’s energy usage by about 75%. In fact, it’s the first building in New York that is both Passive House–certified and net-zero capable.

Paul Castrucci, the principal architect of the firm behind R-951, says that this energy reduction comes from three key areas: super-insulatingreducing air leaks, and recycling and recovering energy where possible. For example, the entire perimeter of the building is super-insulated, which minimizes energy loss. The doors and windows are triple-glazed and the walls and roof, as well as underneath the concrete slab, each have six inches of insulation. Buildings often lose energy through air leaks. To avoid that, the firm air-sealed the entire building and taped around doors and windows to prevent air loss.

R-951 also utilizes an energy-recovery ventilation system to recycle energy and further reduce heat loss. Since R-951 has no air leaks, there has to be a way to bring fresh air into the building — but in the winter, that air may be quite cold. A typical building “exhausts all the air from the kitchens and bathrooms,” Castrucci says, which means that a lot of valuable warm air is leaving the building. The energy-recovery ventilation system acts as a heat exchanger, and thus reduces energy loads by using this warm air in a controlled way, by way of tubes that never cross-contaminate. “There’s incoming air in a series of tubes that’s right next to the hot air that’s going out, he says. “This [system] recovers the heat going out and transfers it to the air coming in.”

In addition to addressing practical energy concerns, the apartments were designed in a thoughtful way so they are liveable and comfortable. “I think the lightness and the light colors reflect the fresh air,” Castrucci says. This balance between aesthetics and practicalities is further reflected in the apartments’ interiors. Take the wood flooring: It’s warm, rich, and modern; and it’s also sourced in a sustainable manner. Though finding this wood required a few extra phone calls and a small upcharge (less than 5%), Castrucci notes that finding responsibly grown woods is getting “easier and easier.”


The roof has a rainwater collection system, which irrigates all the plants in the building, as well as 52 solar panels, which produce renewable energy. If there’s a power outage, residents can plug directly into these panels to heat their apartment or run their fridge.

Solar panels are a surprisingly effective way for homeowners who want to save energy but can’t spend the time or money to build a totally new house. “Solar panels make a big difference,” Castrucci says. “You have a better investment investing in [them] then you do in the stock market.”

Another accessible way all homeowners can learn from R-951 is through its appliances. Castrucci says homeowners looking to increase their home’s efficiency can look to simple things like everyday lighting. “Everyone should be using LED bulbs,” he says. EnergyStar appliances are another easy way to increase efficiency. If you are able to replace your windows, you should use “the best window that you can afford with the highest R-value” (a measure of thermal resistance and level of insulation).

R-951’s apartments all come with induction stoves. With a gas stove, only 20 to 30% of the heat is transferred to a pot. Indoor gas stoves also contribute a high amount of indoor air pollutants. “When you have a building that’s so airtight, all those indoor air pollutants [build up] and it’s not good,” he says. The electric induction stove from GE solves the problem, and 90% of the energy goes right into the pot. “You’re saving energy, and it’s a more efficient, cleaner way of cooking.”

While building a Passive House may not be achievable for everyone, smaller improvements like adding solar panels and upgrading your appliances can go a long way. Screw in a long-lasting and energy-saving GE LED light bulb, for example, and you’ll be well on your way to savings.

Nandita Raghuram is a Senior Writer at Studio@Gizmodo. She tweetshere.

This post is a sponsored collaboration between GE Lighting and Studio@Gizmodo.

Photographs by Timothy Bell. 

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Publication : Net Zero Energy Buildings Passive House + Renewables by Paul Castrucci


Everyone talks about Net Zero and more and more people are talking about Passive House.   Net Zero Energy Buildings: Passive House + Renewables demonstrates that the Passive House pathway is the best way to reach Net Zero.   The international Passive House Standard makes extremely comfortable, durable, healthy and affordable buildings in a growing array of shapes and uses: apartments, schools, even a dental clinic.  All use very little energy.  By optimizing and lowering energy demand, these buildings become the most sensible Net Zero candidates.  Many of the buildings shown in the book have incorporated renewables to become net zero and others are net zero capable.

The book was written and edited by Mary James of Low Carbon Productions and produced by Tad Everhart of CertiPHiers Cooperative, in collaboration with NAPHN and the Passive House Institute.  The projects are noted as Beacons – leading the way.  As well there is a chapter on Leading Regions which span from Tyrol Austria, to New York to Vancouver, British Columbia.  There is a primer on Passive House as well as a clear explanation of why Passive House is the ideal foundation for Net Zero Energy Buildings, ending with the most important reason of all:

“10.  With Passive House as a basis for all Net Zero Energy Buildings – and energy-plus buildings – the energy revolution is possible, and we can avoid catastrophic climate change!”

In the words of New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, Passive House is an activist notion. We hope these examples will inspire you, your city, and your region to action.  See the new eBook here.

Press in Sallen Foundation : Getting Active On Passive House by Paul Castrucci

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

I'm a fan of Passive House. Ever since visiting the top-to-bottom renovation job for an elegant 19th century home in Brooklyn Heights undertaken by architect Ken Levenson back in 2011, the potential for constructing — or in this case reconstructing — urban buildings to keep occupants really comfortable year round without boiler heating or air conditioning in every room has been my yard stick to measure all other climate-friendly buildings. Levenson's Snapshot column was the first introduction Sallan readers had to Passive House, and since then, Ken's been one very busy Passive House advocate.

Still, he wasn't the first to use lots of wall and roof insulation in new ways, install super energy efficient windows and deploy other techniques to make energy efficiency and indoor air quality top priorities in NYC residential buildings.[1] Chris Benedict, using an approach similar to that of Passive House, seems to be the first architect to execute extraordinarily energy efficient design for both new construction and gut renovations in the City, with an emphasis on affordable housing. She also makes the claim that radically energy efficient building design opens the door for a drastically simpler building energy code, which means much less time and effort on the part of owners and architects when applying for permits. And that's not all. In June 2015, at the fourth annual New York Passive House (NYPH) conference, Benedict and her partner Henry Gifford received the NY Passive House Pioneer Award from Levenson. Earlier this year, Sallan introduced readers to the Passive Net Zero Energy condo in Prospect Heights Brooklyn undertaken by architect Paul Castrucci and Green Map maven Wendy Brawer. Cheers to all!

This brief history serves as a lead up to my take-aways from this year's NYPH conference. Let's start with the numbers. They're small. At present, there are 28 Passive House projects in New York City. But the actual number of PH residential units here is about to surge. At the conference, Related Companies announced a residential high-rise project for the now-under-construction Cornell University applied sciences campus on Roosevelt Island. Described by the New York Times as the "world's tallest passive house", it will be a 26 story, 352 housing unit building on a campus with aspirations to being net-zero carbon in its operations. The Related spokesman Luke Falk said this residential tower will use just 25% of the energy of comparable new buildings, but unlike Passive House projects in northern European cities, air conditioning will be installed to cope with New York's notorious hot and muggy summer weather. Unlike Benedict's mid-size multi-family buildings, the large Cornell tower will have central ventilation and heat recovery systems. Determining how to get Passive House-performing ventilation systems to comply with New York City building code has been one of the learning curves in this project. The good news is that it can be done and this will make doing the next passive high rise and the one after that easier. This is certainly an encouraging take-away.

My other chief NYPH conference take-away, however, was that today's market demand for a Passive House is not robust here. At the "Developer Roundtable: Views From the Leading Edge of Market Rate and Affordable Housing", moderated by Stuart Brodsky, participants spoke frankly and in-depth about their experiences in New York City, Philadelphia and London. The Philadelphia-based Passive House architect and developer left me with the impression that the City of Brotherly Love was way out ahead of the Big Apple when it came to scaling up the number of new affordable housing projects that meet Passive House standards. Such leadership rests on the state's housing finance agency scoring system which gives extra points to Passive House designed project applications, but does not require projects to be Passive House compliant. The speaker, Timothy McDonald, stressed that this was a Passive House victory, but one not achieved through policy-making by mandate.

A London-based developer of renovated market-rate housing whose energy efficiency is way above the norm focused on his firm's market research. Here's where things got interesting. The research found that home-buyers were willing to pay more for good soundproofing, but not more for energy efficiency. Since the building envelope insulation that soundproofs a structure also makes it much more energy efficient, his marketing message emphasized the former along with the 'healthfulness' and thermal comfort of these properties. A Brooklyn developer describing new market rate condos designed to be an "energy intelligent building" ruefully conceded that Passive House standards were "not what closed the sale". Instead, for developers like him, however personally committed to cutting his carbon footprint, a more direct incentive to build green is found in recent zoning changes, which grant developers more floor area to build when they use more building envelope insulation than required by code. On the other hand, as was noted, "appraisers are god". Since Passive House up-front costs don't compute for them, appraisals act as an obstacle to energy-active projects.

NYPH 2015 was the fourth annual conference I've attended. Each year more people come, each year, the speakers have more projects to describe and more facts on the ground to report. These appear to be upbeat trends to a fan like me. It's heartening to hear that US cities like New York and Philadelphia are getting more Passive Houses. Experience counts. As well, forces to be reckoned with by every developer, like building and energy codes, zoning requirements and project financing criteria all play a role in shaping the adoption of super energy efficient building design — even if market demand does not lead the way — are trending in the right direction. Still, it does seem that Passive House has a long way to go before it becomes a contender for the title of the new normal in US cities. What will move the needle? In One City Built To Last, the de Blasio administration puts Passive House on its roadmap for shrinking the City's carbon footprint when it "Implement(s) leading edge performance standards for new construction." As well, the report One New York: The Plan For a Strong And Just City cites, "The first net-zero school is currently under construction in Staten Island by School Construction Authority. DCAS is exploring additional public buildings to serve as additional net-zero or Passive House pilot projects." Maybe at NYPH 2016 we'll be nearing the tipping point for getting active on Passive House.

[1] At its simplest, Passive House can be thought of as a set of cooking instructions rather than collection of prescriptive codes. It's outcome oriented. By combining the basic ingredients — a highly insulated building envelope with few thermal breaks — the result is a building with high thermal performance. Installation of a continuous ventilation system that runs on recovered heat ensures good indoor air quality, occupant comfort and low energy use. A building's EUI rating is the outcome-oriented standard measure of energy performance. For a more in-depth description and links to resources and project descriptions see NYPH

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Press in Dwell : R-951 New York, New York by Paul Castrucci

This project page was created by community member  Patrick Sisson

This project page was created by community member Patrick Sisson

The R-951 project shows ultra-efficient, green construction is possible in the big city.

At the edge of the Prospect Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, near the Barclays Center, a new development is pushing the edge of sustainability and green construction. R-951, a series of three 1,500-square-foot, open-loft style apartments that went up this spring, are some of the city’s first Passive House-certified and net-zero buildings, bringing solar-powered living to a medium-density section of New York. According to architect Paul Castrucci, “It’s important for me not to be wasteful and use more fuel for many reasons, so I’ve been designing more energy-efficient buildings. This is the most aggressive so far. With the solar array on the roof, it’s like each apartment has its own solar system.” Castrucci showed us the spacious interior, which despite its green bonafides still captures the airy, open feel normally associated with urban living.

Architect Paul Castrucci found that when designing a passive house for an urban environment, he didn’t have to take many extreme measures as long as the apartment layout was smart and strategic. Like many efficient homes of this caliber, the 13-16 inch thick walls provide serious insulation and a tight envelope.
— Patrick Sisson
“We estimate for a high-quality, efficient project like this, there will be a five percent premium on standard costs,” says Castrucci, who worked with Further Inc. on the project. “It’s not an extreme cost.” The kitchen includes white oak flooring, stone countertops, and Electrolux appliances.

“We estimate for a high-quality, efficient project like this, there will be a five percent premium on standard costs,” says Castrucci, who worked with Further Inc. on the project. “It’s not an extreme cost.” The kitchen includes white oak flooring, stone countertops, and Electrolux appliances.

As far as Castrucci is concerned, he’s a modern architect with a modern view of the world, and that includes sustainability and aesthetics. “Good architecture will always relate to the sun and light; that’s important,” he says. In addition, with a solar array on the roof providing about a 4.2 kilowatt system per apartment, it’s like each resident has their own utility company.

As far as Castrucci is concerned, he’s a modern architect with a modern view of the world, and that includes sustainability and aesthetics. “Good architecture will always relate to the sun and light; that’s important,” he says. In addition, with a solar array on the roof providing about a 4.2 kilowatt system per apartment, it’s like each resident has their own utility company.

Castrucci has been trying to build something like this for a few years, and now feels his team has proof of concept. “We feel that anybody building in this area could achieve a net-zero building. This is showing what’s possible in the future for other developers.”

Castrucci has been trying to build something like this for a few years, and now feels his team has proof of concept. “We feel that anybody building in this area could achieve a net-zero building. This is showing what’s possible in the future for other developers.”

Castrucci has also built in a rainwater collection system that will, based on estimates, will be able to take care of just about all the irrigation and landscaping needs of the property.

Castrucci has also built in a rainwater collection system that will, based on estimates, will be able to take care of just about all the irrigation and landscaping needs of the property.

An additional benefit of this kind of home construction is the quiet produced by triple-glazed window and a thick building envelope. For those wanting to escape the noise of the city, there's nothing better.

An additional benefit of this kind of home construction is the quiet produced by triple-glazed window and a thick building envelope. For those wanting to escape the noise of the city, there's nothing better.

Each unit in the building was priced at roughly $1.5 million

Each unit in the building was priced at roughly $1.5 million

Press CurbedNY : Mapping New York City's Booming Passive House Movement by Paul Castrucci

Wednesday, April 8, 2015, by Jessica Dailey

Seeing as Brooklyn is the artisanal, organic heartbeat of New York City, it should come as no surprise that the latest trend in sustainable building is spreading across the borough. Passive buildings, built to "passive house" standards imported from Germany, are popping up all over the place (even the Times is noticing), and they have an intrigue not found in plain ol' LEED certified buildings. It's not that they look exotic (though sometimes they do), but it's that they function entirely differently from traditional buildings. Passive houses are all about insulation, so they are virtually airtight and use up to 90 percent less energy to heat and cool, making standard heating and cooling systems completely unnecessary. From single-family homes to affordable housing complexes, dozens of developments across New York City have adopted the eco-friendly building techniques. To track the trend, we mapped 21 28 passive buildings in New York, most of which are in Brooklyn. Know of one we missed? Please do leave a comment or drop us a line.

Select Passive Houses in New York City

(as seen in CurbedNY)




(212) 254-3697



For years, art institution ABC No Rio has been planning to makeover its Rivington Street headquarters, and work is finally supposed to start in 2015. Renderings were revealed in 2012, and the tenement will be renovated to passive house and LEED standards.




Prospect Heights is getting a batch of futuristically named condos on Pacific Street. Called R-951, the small building will hold just three apartments, and it is aiming to be net zero, allowing owners to live without external power sources. It will have rooftop sun panels, rainwater harvesting system, and extreme insulation measures, as passive houses do. All units are about 1,500 square feet and priced between $1.49 million and $1.57 million.

Press in Inhabitat : Brooklyn’s First Passive House Condo Building Rises in Prospect Heights by Paul Castrucci

by Bridgette Meinhold, 04/14/14

Brooklyn is quickly becoming a hotbed of passive design, and the borough is set to have another Passive House feather in its cap soon. The R-951 Residence is an ambitious three-story project that is currently under construction in Prospect Heights. When complete, the building is expected to be the first net-zero, solar-powered, passive house condo in the area. Built and designed by Paul Castrucci Architect and Ray Sage of Race Age, Inc., the three-family residence will feature a net-metered, rooftop solar system to provide enough energy for all three households as well as a backyard, deck and rooftop space for residents to enjoy the outdoors and grow their own food. We're definitely putting ourselves on the waiting list!

Read more: Brooklyn's First Passive House Condo Goes Up in Prospect Heights | Inhabitat New York City 


Currently under construction, the R-951 Residence in Brooklyn is aiming to become the first net zero, solar powered, passive house condo project in the area. Designed by Paul Castrucci Architect and builder Ray Sage, of Race Age, Inc, the three unit walkup is a unique project with an ultra-efficient design, tight and highly insulated multi-family residence. A net-metered, rooftop solar system provides enough energy for all three tenants and backyard, deck and roof top space provide plenty of room to spend time outdoors and grow their own food.

Read more: Brooklyn’s First Passive House Condo Building Rises in Prospect Heights R951 Residence-Paul castrucci Architect – Inhabitat New York City 

Press : A Passive House Movement Grows in Brooklyn by Paul Castrucci

building green logo.JPG

September 25, 2013

A three-unit condominium project under construction in Brooklyn is one of many Passive House projects that are springing up in the Borough


The unit on the right, constructed of ICFs, is expected to achieve Passive House certification   Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

I was in New York City over the weekend where I spoke at the Annual Meeting of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association. What I most relished about the trip was an opportunity to explore a new infill housing project in Brooklyn that’s being built to Passive House standards and may well achieve net-zero-energy performance.

Passive House is a certification system that originated in Germany and has been picking up steam over the past few years in North America. To achieve certification, buildings must have modeled energy performance that does not exceed a very stringent limit for heating and cooling as well as total annual primary energy consumption below a specified threshold.

Getting a glimpse into New York’s Passive House community

It was actually through my daughter that I got to know builder Ray Sage, of Race Age, Inc., and architect Paul Castrucci, of Castrucci Architect. In addition to building high-performance buildings, Ray manages some rooftop beehives in East Village from which he harvests honey; my daughter was writing an article about raising bees in the City for her CSA (community supported agriculture) newsletter and spent an afternoon with Ray, his wife Wendy Brawer (who runs GreenMap, a nonprofit network that produces maps of cities highlighting green living resources), and their friend Paul, to learn about beekeeping and help out with honey extraction.


The first connection with builder Ray Sage was through his bees--on a rooftop in the East Village of New York.  Photo Credit: Alex Wilson


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Somehow the topic of green building came up, and it turned out that Ray and Paul were both familiar with my work with Environmental Building News. Ray and Wendy came to my Saturday evening lecture, and I was invited to visit the R-951 Residence, their three-unit Passive House condominium project under construction in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Along with working together on honey extraction, Paul, Ray, and Wendy are partners in Further, Inc., a design-build firm specializing in sustainable building, and the developer of R-951.

A four-story, three-unit walk-up

Being built on a narrow lot in a neighborhood of three- or four-story row houses, R-951 (named for resilience, R-value, and the address: 951 Pacific Street). The three-unit row house is tall and narrow, but with a remarkable amount of outdoor space. The first-story apartment includes a sizable backyard along with half of the basement space (the rest being common space for the three units). The second-story apartment includes a small front balcony and larger rear balcony plus an upper-level loft bedroom. The upper unit is also on two levels and includes front and rear rooftop terraces along with a small front balcony.


Secton of R-951 showing the three multi-level apartments and extensive outdoor space. Click to enlarge.Photo Credit: Castrucci Architects

Each unit is about 1,500 square feet. Because the project is designated as a green building by the City, there was a 500 square-foot bonus provided to the developed area. “That is huge,” Paul told me, in that it allowed the addition of the terrace space.

The building is insulated with insulated concrete forms (ICFs) and lots of additional polyisocyanurate foam insulation. The exposed north and south walls are insulated to about R-46, the roof is insulated to R-59, and there is R-21 insulation under the basement slab.

Windows are state-of-the-art triple-glazed, vinyl-framed Schüco units from Germany with NFRC U-factors of 0.15 and remarkable 0.71 visible transmittance. In other words, these windows allow less than half as much heat loss as standard, American double-glazed windows with low-emissivity glass and argon gas fill), yet they are just as clear or even clearer. The solar heat-gain coefficient (SHGC) is 0.50—allowing plenty of solar gain for passive solar heating benefits.


The Schüco windows provide visible transmittance of over 70% with unit U-factors of 0.15.  Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

Preliminary energy modeling using the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), done by Grayson Jordan in Paul’s office, came out at 4.80 kBtu/ft2·year, which is slightly higher than the Passive House threshold (4.75 kBut/ft2·yr), but Paul thinks that with some tweaks to the envelope during construction the project will help them meet the Passive House requirements.

Indoor air quality will be ensured with the highest-efficiency heat-recovery ventilators on the market—those made by the Swiss company Zehnder (the same product we’ve installing in our house). As with our house, the small-diameter round ducts are snaking through R-951 by the dozens.


The building is all-electric. A Mitsubishi mini-split air-source heat pump provides heating and cooling for each apartment. Hot water will be provided with Stiebel Eltron heat-pump water heaters, which I believe are the highest efficiency heat pump water heaters on the market. Induction cooktops and electric ovens will be used in the kitchens. Jordan Goldman of Zero Energy Design, consulted on building science and mechanical systems design for the project.

A rooftop solar array will provide a total of 12.2 kilowatts (kW) of solar electricity (4.2 kW for one unit and 4.0 kW for each of the other two). These will be net-metered systems that “spin the meter backwards” when the system is producing more electricity than the apartment is using. The solar system is being installed by AEON Solar and will tie into the Con Edison power grid.

The solar system will not include battery back-up, but will use SMA’s new transformerless inverters with access to some power when the utility grid is down and the sun is shining. I wrote about this new inverter last month, and love the resilience benefits it provides.


High-efficiency Zehnder HRVs will ensure good air quality in the apartments. Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

The solar system will come close to making the project net-zero-energy, but whether it actually gets there will depend on how efficiently the homeowners operate their apartments.

The cost for all these added features to achieve Passive House performance is about 5%, according to Ray, though such a small surcharge for the green features in part reflects the generally high construction cost of multi-unit condominiums in Brooklyn.

Ray, Wendy, and Paul anticipate that these features may boost the selling prices slightly compared with standard condos in the neighborhood—one of which is going up next door (with a common wall) and offers a clear comparison.

You can watch the project take shape at

Burgeoning interest in Passive House

After our visit to R-951, Ray, Wendy, and I drove through a few neighborhoods of Brooklyn looking at a number of other projects that are currently being built or renovated to achieve Passive House certification—and one being built to the Passive House performance standards, but that will not be certified (because the owner wanted a fireplace). And these projects were all within a few blocks of R-951.

I was amazed to learn of so much activity. In fact, Wendy told me that there are over 700 members of the NY Passive House MeetUp Group! That doesn’t mean that all those people are actually building Passive House projects, but clearly there is a great deal of interest.

Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. In 2012 he founded the Resilient Design Institute. To keep up with Alex’s latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.

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