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Tue Sep 1, 2015

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new plan to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from city buildings by 2050 relies on Passive House as a guiding standard for new construction and existing building renovation.

The Mayor’s plan, One City: Built to Last, released September 20, states that energy used in New York City’s buildings “…accounts for nearly three-quarters of our contribution to climate change.”  The solution: nearly two-thirds of greenhouse gas reductions must come from more efficient buildings. The plan’s immediate goal is to achieve 35 percent carbon emissions reductions citywide by 2025, establishing a pathway for New York City to reach 80 percent reductions by 2050.

Describing the sweeping transformation required to meet its aggressive targets, the plan notes, “Overall, the City must cut energy use across all building sectors on average by at least 60 percent from 2005 levels and switch to renewable fuel sources”. To do this, the report states that New York City will look to “Passive House, carbon neutral, or `zero net energy’ strategies to inform the standards.”  The benefits of the plan will extend far beyond carbon reduction. This is “…an affordability plan, an economic development plan, and a public health plan,” the Mayor argues will make for a healthier, more economically vibrant, sustainable and resilient city for all residents.

Designing to the Passive House standard reduces a building’s energy demand for heating and cooling by 90 percent. Reductions are obtained through high levels of insulation, airtightness, and heat recovery, while designing for proper solar shading, solar heat gain and internal heat gains. Developed in the 1990s by the Passive House Institute (PHI), located in Darmstadt, Germany, a Passive House may be any building type such as home, school, office, store or factory.

“The Mayor’s plan is a watershed moment,” says Ken Levenson, President of New York Passive House, a local nonprofit organisation affiliated with the Passive House Institute. “Not only does it solidify New York City’s leadership in sustainability, but it makes clear that we can successfully address the climate crisis with advanced standards, like Passive House, which are achievable today.”

Because existing buildings are expected to last well beyond 2050, the plan states that “…increasing the energy efficiency of our existing buildings, in addition to new construction, is the most important step we can take to make deep reductions in our carbon emissions.”

Under the One City: Built to Last plan, the Mayor proposes to invest in high-value projects in 150 to 200 city-owned buildings per year for the next ten years. The City anticipates this investment will prompt the private sector to follow with major low-energy construction activity of its own.

Tens of thousands of Passive Houses have been successfully completed around the world, from a glass office tower in Vienna, Austria, to a hotel near Shanghai, China.  European cities such as Frankfurt, Aachen and Brussels have led in the regional implementation of Passive House. New York City will be the first North American city to incorporate Passive House guidelines into its sustainability goals.

The plan estimates this initiative will create 3,500 construction jobs and hundreds of other related industry jobs.  Over ten years, the plan is expected to provide New Yorkers $8.5 billion in cumulative utility cost savings – funds that can be reinvested in the New York economy.

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