In so many ways, this project represents the holy grail of the healthy building movement… a homeowner’s desire to build better, an architectural firm willing and able to execute, and builders open to using non-traditional materials to meet high-performance, passive house standards.
First, meet CO Adaptive
We have really enjoyed getting to know Ruth and team at CO Adaptive. It’s refreshing to meet an architectural firm that is completely committed to designing high-performance, low embodied carbon homes that fit within the broader built environment. They approach design not with a top-down dictate but rather as a collaborative process where every voice is heard. For folks who have followed us over the years, you know this is a philosophy we share. Informed decisions by all parties (this means you homeowners!) are central to building homes properly. They also put a big emphasis on retrofitting homes, a crucial component to reducing our housing stock’s GHG emissions (roughly 20% of total emissions in the US). And finally CO Adaptive has a stated low-embodied carbon strategy that frankly is the most articulate one we’ve seen… Use of mass timber, foam-free insulation, low carbon materials along with adherence to a Close Loop Material Cycle. It’s a compellingly simple approach to low-carbon building.
A Narrow Passive House
This current CO Adaptive project is a brownstone in Harlem that was originally built in 1910 and features many of the original designs of that period. The owners want a renovation that preserves the history of the home but that also uses design and materials to improve the layout, functionality, and health impacts. Using the Passive House (PH) standard helps guide decisions along the way. Some specifics on the renovation….
Since there is currently an empty lot on the west side of the property, PH level insulation is being applied to three of the exposed sides (and at the roof and under the garden level) and the whole house is wrapped in an airtight, vapor-permeable membrane. Inside of that is Havelock Wool Blown-In insulation. Our batt insulation is used between the floors for acoustic separation in inside interior wall cavities. Due to the house’s innate narrowness, interior dividing walls are kept to a minimum for flexible use and quality daylighting. Exterior motorized shading on the southern facade ensures the building remains cool even on hot summer days. Rear deck and rear yard permeable pavers include the use of Black Locust wood – a local and much more sustainable dense and exterior grade wood than say IPE.
As you can see, the house is a unique property and the renovation is a significant retrofit. Maintaining historical integrity while also modernizing the home is a challenge. Luckily for all of us, there are more willing partners like CO Adaptive to help us meet these goals.
As an aside, we’ve been in this conversion for some time now. It is just plain refreshing to see more and more of these efforts taking shape. We are happy to participate but frankly, the real motivation continues to be raising awareness for better practices which means everyone wins. Here’s to it!