For the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), making its properties more energy efficient through such measures as home energy ratings and geothermal systems has been a priority over the years. But when its efforts plateaued, the state housing finance agency turned to new approaches.
“We looked at what our next push would be as a housing finance agency to have these units be more efficient to push those costs down for residents, and we saw that there had been inroads utilizing Passive House,” says Brian Hudson, PHFA’s executive director and CEO.
Developed by the Passive House Institute in Germany, Passive House is a rigorous standard to attain a high level of energy efficiency. It is made up of a set of design principles that include an airtight building envelope, high-performance windows and doors, and the managing of solar gain to use the sun’s energy for heating and minimize it for cooling.
For its highly competitive LIHTC program, PHFA added points into its 2015 qualified allocation plan to encourage Passive House design. Developers may be awarded up to 10 points for developments built either to the German standard from Passive House Academy or to the PHIUS+ standard from Passive House Institute US.
“The residents will be the beneficiaries, but it also translates into costs savings for operating the property,” says Hudson.
Seven developments that were allocated LIHTCs in the 2015 round have committed to Passive House. Two of the developments, The Whitehall by Mission First Housing Development Corp. in Chester County and Sacred Heart Residences by Pennrose Properties in Allentown, recently started construction.
"The impact that our developments have on our residents’ well-being is taken very seriously," said Timothy I. Henkel, senior vice president with Pennrose Properties. "The whole point of the communities we build is to be able to provide our residents with the opportunities to improve their lives. The economic benefits that Passive House delivers to our residents enhance the quality product that we provide."
Hudson says the PHFA will monitor the Passive House projects to determine how much the savings are and what the tradeoffs are for the additional costs.
“There’s a cost that goes along with this. As it becomes more familiar, it will go down,” he says. “The further we can improve on costs and drive them down will be a big win.”
According to the Passive House Institute US, passive building costs approximately 5% to 10% more than a conventional building.
PHFA also is considering Passive House and analyzing the costs for a 35,000-square-foot addition to its headquarters.
“It’s a hot issue for not just Pennsylvania, but for other housing finance agencies across the country,” he says. “Utility costs and operating costs are the things that can improve quality of life as well as reduce costs for the operator of the project.”