LUCHA, a leading affordable housing developer in Chicago, has just built the first multi-family Passive House in the state of Illinois. The landmark project in the Humboldt Park neighborhood has been certified by PHIUS — the Passivehaus Institute organization in the U.S. – with a projected energy savings of 90% over conventional construction.

The first multi-family Passive House in Chicago. Photo: Gordon Walek

The Passivhaus Institut was established in Germany in 1996, to promote design, construction and insulation practices that make a building envelope more energy efficient and resilient. The goal was to construct walls and windows that are airtight – keeping warm air inside during the winter and cool air contained during the summer.

In addition to an energy efficient building envelope, a “Passivehaus” building also incorporates advanced cooling and heating systems as part of the design. It encourages balanced heat- and moisture-recovery ventilation as well as solar utilization. While advanced technologies, appliances and systems such as climate-controlled zone programming are important for energy conservation, most building professionals agree that the building shell is the most critical component in achieving a zero-energy design.

The Passivehaus organizations in the U.S. and in Germany both work to educate contractors and property developers about the PH standard and train companies on how to measure and certify buildings.

Certification Process

While there are differences between the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification and PHIUS certification, the programs are aligned to encourage high energy-efficient performance in the built environment. Passive House certification also sets air quality and health standards and requires additional testing to ensure the standards are met. According to many industry experts, when it comes to green building and energy conservation, Passive House certification is rigorous, but the resulting construction delivers absolutely superior energy efficiency.

The Passive House project in Chicago was designed by Landon Bone Baker, and the six-unit multi-family residence, is part of LUCHA’s Tierra Linda Project which will include other affordable housing units in the area. To capture energy efficiencies and ensure an effective air and moisture barrier, the contractor and architect for the Passive House complex chose StoTherm® ci with StoColor® Lotusan® for the building’s exterior cladding. Having worked with Sto in the past, they knew the Sto products would ensure they received the coveted PHIUS certification.

The StoTherm® ci system integrates continuous insulation (ci) with air/moisture barriers and drainage, offering a wide range of textured finish options to create an aesthetically pleasing, sustainable wall cladding. This high-performance system not only saves energy but improves indoor comfort and air quality while maintaining maximum curb appeal and lowering overall life-cycle costs.

StoColor® Lotusan® exterior coating was chosen due to its water- and dirt-repelling characteristics, and self-cleaning qualities derived from the organic structure of the lotus leaf.  Sto Lotusan® enhances an exterior’s resistance to mold, mildew and algae with high water vapor permeability, and lowers maintenance costs by extending cleaning and re-coating cycles. Available in any color within the extensive StoColor System, Lotusan is UV-stable with excellent color retention.

With Sto’s advanced building science and materials, LUCHA was able to secure the PHIUS energy-efficiency rating. They also created a multi-family complex with pleasing aesthetics that is impervious to the extreme weather conditions of the region.

It is estimated that there are now more than 60,000 passive-house certified buildings worldwide with nearly 500 in Germany, and more elsewhere in Europe. And while there are only 46 PHIUS certified buildings in the U.S. today, there is a rising level of interest (especially in residential construction) in major metropolitan areas such as Chicago and New York.

LUCHA is to be applauded for the organization’s commitment to Passive House building and the Tierra Linda project – a sustainably-oriented development that brings affordable housing with green technology to low-income residents of Chicago.  In addition to improved heating and cooling efficiency – improving occupant comfort — this commitment will also help decrease energy costs for renters.

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