Climate Crisis, Policy and Passive House

Climate Crisis, Policy and Passive House

A new building opening in New York City is common, but the grand opening of the high-performance affordable HANAC Corona Senior Residence in Corona Queens, this year, was different. This opening was the focus of news organizations, with attendance by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, City Council member Francisco Moya, and senior de Blasio administration officials along with officers of HANAC Inc, Enterprise Community Partners, Chase Bank, and community stakeholders.

The HANAC building represents a new era for energy efficient design: the largest low-income senior housing site in the nation to be certified by the Passive House Institute. Buildings like HANAC’s are celebrated because they are addressing the intersection of affordability, social well being and the fight against climate change.

As our earth heats up, populations will migrate away from the hottest regions as climate refugees, wildfires will burn greater areas, and oceans will face ecological collapse, straining all life forms, economic activity and general security. Consequently, the Paris Climate Agreement has called for dramatic action by all nations to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And the IPCC’s follow-up, in October of 2018, provided its most urgent call to action, to date.

"Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society...With clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society…"

The HANAC opening special guest, Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, with Senator Ed Markey, has submitted House Resolution 109, known as The Green New Deal, which directly addresses the climate crisis, demanding that we rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Although the task seems overwhelming, we already have many of the solutions - success is a matter of implementation. And Passive House construction is a critical part of that implementation.

Passive House certified designs, like the HANAC Corona Senior Residence, reduce space heating and cooling energy consumption by up to 90%, are well suited to reach net-zero carbon emissions, and directly answer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her call for more efficient buildings in the Green New Deal. The proposed resolution states:

"Upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability…” (E) in paragraph (2) (referred to in this resolution as the “Green New Deal”).

The Green New Dealis building on efforts by cities and states, including Vermont, Hawaii, NJ, Washington, Oregon and Maine. Notably, in the Fall of 2018, California passed SB100, mandating its grid become 100% zero carbon by 2045 with a push toward electrification generally. Importantly, for buildings, as Bronwyn Barry, President of the North American Passive House Network described to Treehugger:

“California did away with their net zero energy standards because mitigating the harmful effects of climate change is less about being net zero energy and more about being net zero emissions. Net zero emissions requires a strategic balance between energy demand and supply. If the supply of energy is sustainable, like when supplied by PV solar energy, the main issue concerning demand is time. Our goals must be twofold: 1. Peak load reduction and 2. Electrification."

And this spring saw New York City pass the Climate Mobilization Act, a package of legislation designed to meet the IPCC 1.5°C limit, including Local Law 97 that mandates the decarbonization of its largest buildings by 2050. Finally, not to be outdone, New York State passed the most far-reaching law to date mandating that the state’s entire economy essentially decarbonize by 2050. The act says in part:

“It shall therefore be a goal of the state of New York to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all anthropogenic sources 100% over 1990 levels by the year 2050, with an incremental target of at least a 40 percent reduction in climate pollution by the year 2030, in line with USGCRP and IPCC projections of what is necessary to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change.”

As we continue to press our governments for climate action, a growing number of governments are turning to low-energy Passive House design. The HANAC Corona Senior Residence is just one of many Passive House buildings across North America and their numbers are growing exponentially.

Let’s build like the future depends on it.

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