By Holly Dutton
An industrial section of Bushwick is getting some much-needed greening with the addition of two new energy-efficient rental buildings.
The first, at 424 Melrose Street, is an affordable housing project developed by The Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and The United Mennonite Church, which owned the site and several other buildings in Bushwick.
The 24-unit project, which was financed by TD Bank, also had funding from the New York State Homes and Community Renewal organization, which consists of all New York state’s major housing and community renewal agencies, including The Affordable Housing Corporation, The Division of Housing and Community Renewal, Housing Finance Agency, State of New York Mortgage Agency, and Housing Trust Fund Corporation.
Chris Benedict, architect for both projects, attended Cooper Union in the 70’s and has been in the energy-efficiency business since the late 90’s, when her firm built green rental buildings in the East Village, the same neighborhood she calls home.
The Melrose Street building is scheduled to be finished next month, while construction on the second building, 803 Knickerbocker, is now underway.
The Knickerbocker building will also have 24 units, but the design will be different.
“That one is completely made out of concrete block with insulation on the outside,” said Benedict. “It’s sculpted looking — insulation with stucco in it. It has a very structural look to it.”
“This is an extremely low-energy building, and it’s designed to be that,” said Benedict. “The cutting edge piece of the building is that it is designed to meet the passive house standard.”
There are two passive house standards, one from Germany, where it originated, and one in the United States.
Passive house is a rigorous and strict standard of construction that integrates architectural design, and with the use of sunlight, an airtight exterior and insulation, creates energy-efficient buildings.
“We’re going for both certifications from both of those groups,” she said. “The way to design a building using passive house standard is that you have to have full creativity about what you want to do, but they have an energy goal you have to meet and show in a model.”
There is a test that will be done once the building is completed, and if the building passes, it will be certified as passive house.
The only structure with passive house certification in Brooklyn currently is a brownstone in Park Slope.
Benedict expects both Bushwick residential buildings to be certified once they are completed.
She and her firm took a variety of factors into consideration when modeling 424 Melrose, including the orientation of the building and how the sun will shine on it, what kind of windows would be the best for the project, and how efficient the insulation would be within the 12-foot wide walls.
The building has to use less than 15 kilowatt hours per square meter per year for heating, as well as air conditioning.
“This is a very, very low amount of energy for heating,” said Benedict. “It’s really good for air conditioning, but it’s not as extreme as it is for energy use.”
Benedict estimated that the building will be using 10 percent of the energy an average multi-family building in New York City uses.
“It’s built for the typical price of construction,” said Benedict. “There’s this thought out there that passive house is great, but it costs more. So what we’re showing here is that it can be done for the same price, you just have to be clever and economical about what you do.”
The mechanical systems will be much smaller than normal systems and feature much smaller boilers that are kept on the roof. The heating system uses hot water and can sense when a room needs more heat.
“The glass in the windows and the walls hold heat in the building,” said Benedict. “If you have a lot of incoming sun, the heat will stay in and stay warm and the heater doesn’t have to come on.”
The heaters have thermostats on them, and heat is limited to 72 degrees in the units.
“Every single room reacts to its environment,” she said.
She noted that not every unit will comply to passive house standards, but the building as a whole is expected to.
The units range from studios to three bedrooms. Planters will be installed outside the windows in each unit, and ivy will be grown to help shade the apartments from heat.
The building will have an 800 s/f community room, a bike storage room, laundry room and parking behind the building, as well as a garden.
The roof of the building features 16 solar panels, which were situated so they faced south, to have maximum output.
They were also built high enough so that, if surrounding buildings are built up to their allowable height, they will still gather sun.
“It’s a whole different kind of lifestyle feel than a regular apartment building,” said Benedict.