Thursday, July 21, 2016

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

In recent years we feel the real effects of climate change with ever more intensity. Just this June (2016) was the hottest month on record in the contiguous US . 2014 and 2015 are the hottest years on record globally - with records starting 150 years ago. It is almost certain that 2016 will beat the previous records, which will make it the third hottest year on record in a row. The earth is warming at a dangerous rate and it is a threat for all of humanity and life as we know it. Cities like New York, mainly built on islands and with over 520 miles of shore line, are especially vulnerable. The change in climate is threatening the city in various ways; most seriously by rising sea level rise, but also by extreme storms and heat waves as we have experienced in recent years.  
Therefore New York State and the City of New York has set the ambitious goal to reduce Greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. To reach this goal New York City alone needs to reduce 43 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions of which 25 million metric tons come from energy used in buildings. 

--> One proven solution is to construct buildings to Passive House standard. Passive House standard reduces the energy use of a building by 75-90%, compared to an average of the existing building stock. The 2016 Energy Code is another step in that direction. But the goal set by State and City can, however, only be reached if the existing buildings can be retrofitted into energy efficient buildings This is simultaneously a  great challenge and also a great opportunity for architects and the building industry at large. Innovation --> and new ways of thinking are required. A strong partnership between Passive House Standard architects, contractors and manufacturers is imperative to achieve these goals. -->

New York City and New York State have put forth several initiatives to facilitate the necessary changes in the energy use of buildings. 
-->For those interested in in-depth information, please review:,

At the North American Passive House conferences in June NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) introduced their plan to promote and facilitate deep energy retrofits for all off the 1.7 million Affordable Housing Units in New York State over the next 20 years. The energy retrofitting of those units will address a number of needs and constraints, including:
  • Aging stock: Capital needs/ capital constraint
  • Resident health, comfort and affordability
  • Resident relocation issue
Eventually NYSERDA hopes that his initiative will lead to the adoption of the tools and methods for deep energy retrofits for the entire housing market.

NYSERDA's role in this process would be to accelerate innovations and testing solutions, which includes; identifying specific buildings as pilots, Technology Agnostic (unbiased towards the use of different technology tools) and conducting open competitions as well as creating the right environment for those innovations, including:
  • Regulatory framework: address regulatory barriers
  • Financial tools: underwriting, credit enhancement, social bonds insurance backstop, HUD, etc.
  • Supply chain development
One of the major difficulties that needs to be solved is the How. How can 1.7 million Affordable Housing units be deep energy retrofitted while still being occupied. New ways of construction and refurbishing are required. One of the working examples NYSERDA was investigating is a very successful project in the Netherlands. It is the Dutch model Energysprong, which is now adopted by multiple European countries.
Image from

The image above is an Energiepsrong project that is turning old terraced housing into modern net zero energy homes through the installation of new insulated external roof and wall panels that completely transform the properties. The process is done by using prefabricated panels and most houses can be retrofitted within a week, with minimal disturbance for the residents because the majority of the work is on the exterior. The links below provide more information:

As you can see from the webpages it works for all kinds of aesthetics and building materials. The big challenge for cities like New York is if this can be done for high and medium rise buildings as well. Watch a building being retrofitted using prefabricated panels:

NYSERDA is hoping to receive feedback from the Passive House community on building typology (what can be done), code and supply chain hurdles and take part in the design competitions, which NYSERDA is planning to launch. For updates see: