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New Crown Heights Condo Built to Passive House Standards

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on January 4, 2023

Crown Heights, Brooklyn

Passive house construction, Brooklyn condo, Lexe, Local Law 97, electric heat pumps.

The Lexe condominium in Crown Heights, Brooklyn is built to passive house standards.

Jan. 4, 2023

New York City just got a shade greener.

Lexe, a new 10-unit condo in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has begun selling units in a five-story building that was constructed to comply with passive house standards, which are still a novelty in New York. The standards, developed in Europe, include getting rid of fossil fuels and cutting electricity use by 75% or more through rigorous attention to sealing the building’s envelope.

Lexe has eight solar panels on the roof. Its exterior walls are 18 inches thick (instead of the conventional six inches), windows are triple-paned, window frames are insulated and affixed with special caulking. Each unit’s heating and cooling needs are supplied by one or two electric Mitsubishi heat pumps. Each unit is equipped with an Energy Recovery Ventilator, which purifies and recirculates air so that windows don’t have to be opened. The result is that clean cool air is trapped inside the units during summertime, while clean warm air is trapped in wintertime. Energy bills plummet.

“We would pass the Local Law 97 carbon caps with flying colors,” says Reuben Pinner, president of RYL Group, which built the project with the Italian developer Massimo Cocco. Beginning next year, under Local Law 97 the city will begin fining buildings that fail to reduce their carbon emissions below specified caps.

“The city is saying to builders that we need to produce good energy ratings,” Pinner adds. “The city is making it mandatory to move toward this way of building.”

Indeed, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law in late 2021 that made New York the largest city in the nation to ban natural gas connections in new buildings. Beginning this year, newly constructed buildings under seven stories will not be allowed to use natural gas for cooking, heating or domestic hot water. The law, which will apply to larger buildings beginning in 2027, is expected to cut more than 2 millions tons of carbon emissions from buildings by 2040, equivalent to the annual emissions of 450,000 gasoline-powered cars. New York State, which has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emission by 40% by 2030, is mulling a similar law.

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Passive house construction adds about 6% to a building’s construction costs, but the payoff is avoiding fines under Local Law 97 and reducing energy bills. Units at Lexe are priced from $1.2 million to $2 million.

One unit at Lexe is in contract, says the sales director, Steve Halpern, a broker at Compass. It’s a one-bedroom duplex that sold for $1.35 million, and Halpern says he’s negotiating offers on three additional apartments. Part of his job is educational. “Half of the potential buyers have some knowledge about passive construction, and a few have extensive knowledge,” he says. “One of the cool things is that I just had two repeat showings — people who did some research after their first visit and got very intrigued by the passive house concept.”

Lexe is not the first New York structure built to passive house standards. That distinction goes to Knickerbocker Commons, a 24-unit affordable project that opened in 2014 in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Most of the certified passive residential buildings in the city are townhouses or affordable housing complexes, not multifamily market-rate projects. But that’s beginning to change. Like Lexe, the Charlotte, a seven-unit condominium under construction on the Upper West Side, is selling units. Its least-expensive apartment, a four-bedroom, costs $9.95 million, according to StreetEasy. 

“The best thing we’re doing is giving people a beautiful building that has all the finishes they want,” Pinner says. “And it’s going to make them feel good that it’s better for them and better for the environment.”

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