The floors, made from Wormy Maple (left), were harvested from a certified sustainably managed forest in New York State, which the architect toured to ensure no clear-cutting was done—the trees are selected and harvested. Now they cover roughly 2,200 square feet on all three floors. The floor was coated with polyurethane, and treated with ultraviolet light on the final coat to seal in any of the finishing chemicals. That prevents off-gassing, and the chemical bond increases the wood’s durability. The lighting (right) is provided by LEDs, which last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs and use a small fraction of the electricity.
By Dr. Fridtjof Nansen
Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the Ship “Fram” 1893–96 and of a Fifteen Months’ Sleigh Journey by Dr. Nansen and Lieut. Johansen
“……….. walls were covered with several thick coatings of non-conducting material, the surface layer, in touch with the heat of the cabin, consisting of air-tight linoleum, to prevent the warm, damp air from penetrating to the other side and depositing moisture, which would soon turn to ice. The sides of the ship were lined with tarred felt, then came a space with cork padding, next a deal panelling, then a thick layer of felt, next air-tight linoleum, and last of all an inner panelling. The ceiling of the saloon and cabins consisted of many different layers: air, felt, deal panelling, reindeer-hair stuffing, deal panelling, linoleum, air and deal panelling, which, with the 4-inch deck planks, gave a total thickness of about 15 inches………….The skylight which was most exposed to the cold was protected by three panes of glass, one within the other, and in various other ways….”
“Whether the thermometer stands at 22° above zero or at 22° below it, we have no fire in the stove. The ventilation is excellent, especially since we rigged up the air sail, which sends a whole winter‘s cold in through the ventilator; yet in spite of this we sit here warm and comfortable, with only a lamp burning. I am thinking of having the stove removed altogether; it is only in the way.“ (From Nansen: “Farthest North”, Brockhaus, 1897)
The residential project. in Hunters Point, Long Island City involves a late-19th century terrace house to be demolished except for the foundation and the shared party walls with neighboring properties to the north and south. The new construction will rely on the existing true party walls and existing foundation for support with the exception of the rear extension.
The existing building is one of eight-in-a-row, three-story masonry houses built contemporaneously in 1903 and employing common concrete foundations and brick party-wall structural methods. Recent mapping has determined that the entire block is in the flood plain placing the basement level (a full living area) below the flood plain elevation. Code prohibits substantial renovation to any useable space below this legal datum. The project, therefore, consists of raising this lowest level out of the flood plain and the subsequent levels to maintain floor-to-floor heights. This will be accomplished using the existing party walls which will remain in place. Also, there is a three story extension in the rear aligning to the new floor slab heights. Finally, the front façade which has been an eyesore for some 60 years due to an unfortunate remodeling will be replaced with a design that complements the adjoining houses in an effort to maintain the context of the block.
The house is designed according to Passive House standards; see: http://www.passivehouse.us/passiveHouse/PassiveHouseInfo.html for an overview. The construction is to meet Passive House standards (PH) requiring the inspection and sign-off on insulation levels and installation techniques by the energy engineer. Although common for decades in western Europe, PH is now coming to the consciousness of Americans as energy prices increase.
Based on design models established by Germany’s Passivhaus Institut, passive
dwellings basically heat and cool themselves, often slashing typical heating bills by upwards of 90%. Although more than 30,000 of these ‘zero-energy’ buildings have been erected in countries like Austria and Germany, passive houses remain rare in the United States; only 12 U.S. projects have been awarded certification from the Passive House Institute, the American arm of Passivhaus Institut.
Not to be confused with passive solar, which requires architects to calibrate their designs to maximize solar energy, passive houses focus on minimizing the amount of energy used to heat, cool, and operate a dwelling. Unlike more traditional green residential designs, which often rely on pricey technologies like solar panels and wind turbines, passive houses come close to achieving near-zero energy consumption by being super-insulated and airtight; a focus on old-fashioned building science to reduce energy use by up to 90% less energy.
To achieve this, builders insulate the entire envelope, including the walls, roof, even the foundation, and meticulously caulk, seal, and tape every possible gap or opening in the house so that the structure is so airtight it could literally hold water.
In addition to eschewing structural elements that might serve as thermal bridges (allowing hot or cold air to escape), passive design also relies on strategically placed windows to ensure the home gains more heat than it loses.
Last but not least, passive houses tap into the energy and residual heat (from, say, a clothes dryer or a pot of pasta cooking on the stove) that exist in the house through an advanced heat-recovery system; a “magic box,” the only mechanical equipment required in a passive house. It brings fresh air in and exhausts stale air and brings fresh air in, all the while transferring the heat to the new air coming in.”
And ‘airtight’ doesn’t mean you can’t open the windows; Passive houses operate like any other house. They’re just a lot more efficient.