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The Results Are in from the NYC Ice Box Challenge!

On April 21, 2018, two blocks of ice weighing exactly one ton each were placed into what appeared to be identical sheds in Times Square. The purpose? To measure how much each block would melt over a 30-day period, ultimately demonstrating the efficacy of Passive House construction methods.

The first shed, or Ice Box, was built to meet current NYC Building Code standards, which lack stringent requirements for building envelope performance. The second was constructed using building principles adopted from the Passive House Standard, including the utilization of high performance building materials, a superior airtight building envelope with advanced insulation, and triple-pane windows.

Graphic of Iceboxes

After 30 days of exposure, the Ice Boxes were publicly unveiled, and the results were exactly what building professionals had anticipated. The block of ice contained in the Ice Box constructed to NYC Building Code resulted in a final weight of 126 pounds, while the block of ice within the Passive House Ice Box weighed an astonishing 756 pounds, retaining 42% of its mass!

So, What Did We Learn…

Though at a small scale, the Ice Box demonstration illustrates the marked difference between meeting code requirements and building to elevated efficiency standards. Through careful construction and the use of high performance materials, building owners can significantly improve the comfort and quality of their buildings, while exponentially reducing energy use. In fact, buildings designed to Passive House standards use up to 90% less energy than a traditional building.

John Lee Speaking

John Lee speaking at the NYC Ice Box Challenge opening ceremony.

It should be noted that NYC is taking steps toward improving the health and efficiency of its buildings. Various incentive programs, including the NYC Retrofit Accelerator, are designed to streamline the process by helping building owners find monetary incentives and offering free advisory services and training to building staff.

The Ice Box Challenge kick-off event featured speeches from various industry leaders, including John Lee, the Deputy Director for Green Buildings and Energy Efficiency at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. Key points presented included the importance of incentives such as the NYC Retrofit Accelerator, to meet the City’s ambitious carbon reduction goals.

New York City is one of the first cities worldwide to implement a “Carbon Challenge” – an initiative to help the city achieve its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. The program encourages universities, hospitals, multifamily buildings, commercial owners and tenants, and hotels to cut greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, and reduce the impact of climate change.

Incentives aside, the private sector is not leaving its future to fate. Passive House projects are rapidly increasing across the United States, and especially in New York City. The graph below indicates the increase in Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) certified or pre-certified projects in square footage.

PHIUS chart displaying exponential growth in Passive House market

Many of these projects are being constructed in the affordable housing sector, which has become a recent proponent of the Passive House Standard due to the occupant comfort and energy savings provided. For instance, Beach Green North in Queens is considered to be the largest affordable Passive House project of its kind, featuring 101 affordable housing units and an array of innovative features designed to conserve water, electricity, and gas.

So, whether it’s a small wooden shed or a 26-story multifamily highrise, designing to the Passive House Standard has moved into the mainstream. SWA is proud to be a part of the NYC Ice Box Challenge and other initiatives aimed at increasing the health and efficiency of buildings.

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By Alex Mirabile, Marketing Coordinator

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