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og:image, cornell tech, passive house Cornell Tech will boast the first high-rise residential building in the world to meet Passive House standards when it is completed in 2017
It was once assumed that the only way to live in a truly green building was to go off the grid. While moving off the grid may still be the purest way to live in a sustainable environment, not everyone can move upstate, build a tiny house out of recycled materials and set up a field of windmills and solar panels. Fortunately, if you prefer to live in the city, there are a growing number of viable alternatives for green-minded urbanites. From luxury condos to public housing to individual homes, green buildings are on the rise across the city.
This Noho penthouse, formerly owned by developer Matthew Blesso, was given a green upgrade that includes FSC-certified wood throughout and an edible rooftop garden

How to Find a Green Building: LEED Certification and Passive House

One of the people who has helped to drive sustainable development in New York City is David Burney. From 2004 to 2014, Burney served as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Design and Construction. In this capacity, he managed capital projects for multiple city agencies and launched the Design and Construction Excellence Initiative. Among the Initiative’s goals was a mandate to promote sustainable design projects. Burney, now a professor of architecture at the Pratt Institute, explains that despite the fact that public sector projects took the lead in terms of sustainability, the landscape is changing: “Since the widespread implementation of the USGBC LEED accreditation system most large new buildings and major renovations apply for LEED certification, both public and private.”

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a third-party verification system for green buildings. Somewhat like the more familiar USDA label used to certify organic products, LEED certifies that a building has been developed following a set of sustainability principles, which include the following:

 

  • Location and Transportation: Does the building offer easy access to public transportation, a car sharing service, like Zipcar, or provide onsite bicycle storage?

 

  • Sustainable Sites: Does the site allow for rainwater management or light pollution reduction? 

 

  • Water Inefficiency: Does the building include water reduction strategies? 

 

  • Energy and Atmosphere: Does the building meet energy performance standards? 

 

  • Materials and Resources: Does the building have a recycling program and a demolition and construction waste management plan? 

 

  • Indoor Environmental Quality: Does the building meet air quality performance standards and maximize natural resources, including daylight? 

 

  • Innovation: Does the building feature new technologies or materials designed to promote sustainability? 

 

  • Regional Priority: Has the project been designed to address local environmental challenges?
 
If you care about living in a sustainable building, Burney advices, “First, check to see if the building has LEED certification, and there are several levels, from silver to platinum, reflecting the degree of sustainability achieved. Then check the building maintenance and operations.” As he cautions, “Many buildings start out as LEED certified but if they are not properly run and maintained, they quickly become less energy efficient.”
A Passive House design by Loadingdock5 Architects at 174 Grand Street in Williamsburg
In addition to LEED, some New York City developers are beginning to adopt another recognized standard in sustainable housing—Passive House. Originated in Germany in the mid 1990s, Passivhaus, which is also applied to public and commercial buildings, continues to gain ground due to its significant energy savings. While LEED certified buildings typically use 25-30 percent less energy, Passive House buildings generally cut energy consumption by 60-70 percent and have been known to cut energy consumption up to 90 percent. Rather than rely on solar panels or wind turbines, Passive House is a building standard focused on the development of properties that use less energy from the start.
Architect Ken Levenson, a Certified Passive House Designer and founding member of New York Passive House, emphasizes that Passive House, which arrived in New York City in 2009, has had a very different history than LEED. While LEED certified projects have traditionally been concentrated in the public sector, Levenson emphasizes, “Passive House has been dominated by single family first adopters.” However, he is now witnessing a new trend: “Multifamily is in the process of taking the lead, and we expect commercial and institutional projects to follow.”
In many respects, the fact that individual homeowners have taken the lead in the Passive House movement is not a surprise. As Levenson explains, “Passive House is narrowly focused on the things that truly drive performance—comfort, health and energy.” Another advantage is that Passive House is more accessible: “Cost is another advantage of Passive House over LEED, in that all the extra effort of Passive House is put toward optimizing the building performance, and cost optimization is part of that process. Cost is a driver, not an add-on. Consequently, properly optimized Passive House construction can cost just marginally more than conventional construction, making it not only affordable but a money maker going forward.”
CityRealty's count of LEED rated buildings in 2015
Despite the growing number of sustainable residential projects across the city, there is still a gap between the number of green buildings in the public versus private sectors. “The public sector has mandated the use of the LEED system very broadly,” Burney explains, “But there is no requirement to do so in the private sector, although the Building Code is imposing increasingly stringent requirements for energy efficiency. Government is also slowly imposing more sustainable practices on the private sector as part of a broader climate-change policy.” Burney adds that beyond these legislative changes, consumers also are increasingly looking to buy and rent in sustainability-focused developments: “The market is demanding sustainability.” The growing enthusiasm for Passive House, which has always been more accessible, arguably also reflects the growing market demand for sustainable homes.

Where to Find Sustainable Residential Buildings in NYC

Below are just five private and public residential properties informed by the principles of sustainable design. Notably, the projects range from LEED certified and Passive House developments to developments that have prioritized sustainable design principles but chosen not to seek either certification.

Roosevelt Island: When Cornell Tech opens its campus on Roosevelt Island in 2017, it will be home to the world’s first high-rise residential building that meets Passive House standards. The 270-foot tall building, designed by Handel Architects, features a façade that goes well beyond aesthetics. Serving at the “gills” of the building, the façade is also designed to house the building’s highly energy-efficient cooling and heating equipment.
Battery Park City: The Visionaire, completed in 2008, has had little difficulty living up to its name. Designed by Pelli Clark Pelli Architects, this NYC building was the city’s first to become LEED Platinum Certified. The condominium has been praised for its energy efficiency and indoor air quality.
Williamsburg: Designed by architect Gregory Merryweather, Greenbelt is situated near McCarren Park in Williamsburg. A LEED Gold Certified building since 2010, Greenbelt has a lot to boast about on the sustainability front. The building uses 40 percent less energy and 30 percent less water than comparable homes. The building was also constructed using 40 percent recycled materials. Where new materials were required, sustainable choices where made—the floors, for example, feature rapidly renewal bamboo.
The Visionaire
The Kalahari
Schermerhorn House
Harlem: Located on the south tip of Harlem just blocks from Central Park, the Kalahari is a mixed-income and LEED Silver Certified building. Among the building’s sustainable features are its recycled building materials, bamboo flooring, green roof and reliance of renewable energy sources, including solar and wind power. Designed by Frederic Schwartz Architects, the building embodies a whole systems approach to development.
Downtown Brooklyn: Schermerhorn House, a residential initiative designed by Ennead Architects, was developed to provide housing to people working in the performing arts as well as low-income New Yorkers. The development, which opened in 2010, has several sustainable features including recycled materials, such as post-consumer waste glass, and a green roof to help reduce “heat island effect” (a term used to describe the rapid warming of highly populated areas). Notably, the budget for Schermerhorn House did not support LEED certification, which would have priced the project beyond its affordability goals, but sustainable design principles nevertheless guided the project’s design.
Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.
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