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Can Passive House help us build more efficient affordable housing?

Can Passive House help us build more efficient affordable housing?

As we strive to create a clean energy economy that works for everyone, it’s vital that every family has access to housing that’s affordable, resilient, and energy efficient. One place we can make an immediate impact on affordable housing efficiency is in the construction of new properties. For instance, how does the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) Certification construction compare to conventional high-performance approaches? To understand the impact, our researchers performed a field study to monitor and evaluate two different Chicago-area six-flat properties to gain valuable insights on the value of passive design.

In this project, we partnered with the ComEd Energy Efficiency Program to construct a new building as part of the Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA)'s Tierra Linda development in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. This multi-family property was built to PHIUS Certification standards, which we compared to a neighboring building constructed to ENERGY STAR standards.

After a year of monitoring—including your typically cold Chicago winter—we discovered that the Passive House standard required 60% less heating energy than the twin ENERGY STAR property. Along with all the other benefits of Passive House, from improved indoor air quality to increased comfort, the standard cut overall energy use considerably.

Our team conducted in-depth monitoring of both properties to understand the overall difference in performance and the energy and indoor environmental impacts of discrete elements of the Passive House approach. These include insulation levels, window performance, air sealing, heating using air-source heat pumps, ventilation, appliances, and more. By monitoring these different elements, we aimed to gain insights on how these standards might make future affordable housing efficiency programs as effective as possible.

The differences between Passive House and ENERGY STAR mainly comes down to a few factors: insulation, ventilation, and appliances. In particular, the Passive House property included:

Aside from the building standards, the two buildings were nearly identical, making them an ideal test case for comparing the two standards side by side.

Chicago was an ideal site for such as a study, as its predictably varied climate—hot, humid summers followed by bitter-cold winters—poses a unique challenge to making energy efficient buildings.

In the end, we found that Passive House shows promise as an efficient option for affordable new construction. Some highlights from the final report include:

Ultimately, the Passive House standard and certification provides design teams with a roadmap to achieve significant performance improvements beyond the conventional best practices seen in the ENERGY STAR multi-family building certification. Based on the results of this project, ComEd will further investigate integration of the Passive House standard as part of its Affordable Housing New Construction offering.

For more information, and to read the preliminary results, visit the project page on ComEdEmergingTech.com.

In the meantime, as part of our mission to accelerate climate solutions for everyone, Slipstream continues to evaluate new breakthroughs in energy efficiency and how they intersect with health, resilience, and affordability.

To hear the latest news about Slipstream's research, subscribe to The Acceleratorhere.

Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd©) engages in numerous research projects focused on improving energy efficiency opportunities for customers. The above describes one such project. The information is provided only for general awareness. It is not technical guidance and cannot be copied in full or part or reused in any form or manner. It should not be relied upon for any purpose. ComEd makes no representation that its content is correct, accurate, complete, or useful in any manner – including the particular purpose to which it relates – nor does it indicate a commitment by ComEd to any future course of action.