Kenwood PassivHaus renovates residential structures in accordance with the Passivhaus Institut Building Standard ("Passive House Institute," "International Passive House Association")



There's only one Passivhaus Institut  (Passivhaus InstitutInternational Passive House Association. It's a growing global enterprise dedicated to research, certification, education and training and it's been around for over 25 years.  Only one comprehensive Passivhaus Institut Building Standard exists and its a global standard.  Tens of thousands of Passivhaus Institut Certified Buildings exist today on each continent from Europe to Africa to Antarctica and in every climate zone in between.  Since its inception over twenty years ago, the Passivhaus Institut established not only the most rigorous building standard for energy efficiency and occupant comfort but also established a growing global movement to combat carbon emissions while dramatically increasing occupant comfort and affordability.  Today, the Passivhaus Institut certifies not only Buildings, but also Building ComponentsDesignersConsultants, Tradespeople, and Certifier Enterprises.  The Passivehaus Institut Building Standard constitutes the "new paradigm" in building performance.

"Global Warming," if valid, presents an existential threat to life.  You may or may not believe that human behavior constitutes a primary contributor to global warming. In any case, modern industrial life produces "toxic pollutants" that would not otherwise be produced.   As a society we can significantly reduce the amount of toxic pollutants we produce simply by making  a better choice when we renovate, or build new, that helps mother nature heal herself and nurture us while we increase the quality of our living environments and financial wealth.

For most of recorded history humans lived in variants of caves, tents and huts.  It wasn't that long ago that most of the world's population began their migration from farms to cities and we adopted the internal combustion engine, indoor plumbing and electricity.  These adoptions required immense capital expenditures which created industries and jobs and fortunes for those who could organize and manage the related resources.  Today, that status quo believes that significant improvements in our environmental quality requires vast fortunes we can only dream of affording. This constitutes a false premise. To demonstrate that building performance and occupant comfort can radically increase during the renovation process for the same expense all else equal Kenwood Passivhaus has undertaken a comprehensive mechanical and structural renovation in accordance with the Passivhaus Institut Building Standard of 5485 South Ellis Avenue , an 1890 Greystone Rowhouse on the University of Chicago campus   This project will show that an 1890 Greystone Rowhouse in Chicago can be cost effectively renovated to this rigorous and extremely energy efficient standard. Others have succeeded throughout Europe while providing all the creature comforts modern consumers love.  When we succeed this renovation will become Chicago's first Passivhaus Institut Certified Building.  Because this standard can be achieved in historic masonry retrofits and has been achieved again and again in countries dominated with this type of building stock a perfect alignment of economic and environmental interests exist for historic masonry renovation and new construction  to the Passivhaus Institut Building Standard here in Chicago to meaningfully reduce carbon emissions.

5485 South Ellis Ave

5485 South Ellis Ave



A typical family of four in Chicago with two SUVs that heats with gas and cools with central forced air can easily produce over 100,000 pounds of carbon per year.  Carbon is just like any other type of garbage and like any other garbage it ends up in a landfill and that landfill is our atmosphere. That 100,000 pounds of matter translates into 25 cubic yards or 675 cubic feet of concrete, or nearly 300 linear feet of sidewalk or three full loaded ready-mix concrete dump trucks - every year for every family of four.  Recycling reduces that total by some 1000 pounds. Switching to hybrid vehicles might reduce the total by another 15,000 pounds. That's nice. That's good. But that barely makes a dent. That said, reducing heating, cooling and hot water energy requirements in this family's residence would profoundly reduce the amount of carbon they would normally produce.  If this family recycled, drove hybrids and lived in a Passivhaus Institut Building Standard house, like 5485 South Ellis Avenue, their carbon production (atmospheric waste) would decrease by a whopping  85%, all else equal.  

It is widely understood that a Passivhaus Institut Certified Building requires some 90% less energy to heat and cool while a Passivhaus Institut EnerPHit Certified Building might be 80% when compared to current code built buildings.  With cost effective Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) 100% of the required energy could be produced on-site and then stored in battery packs, like the  Tesla Powerwall , or sold to Comed. In this scenario, this family would never run out of energy. It would never be inconvenienced with power outages.  And, it might even make money selling its excess energy to the grid.  Disruptive?  You bet.  With a Passivhaus Institut Certified Building the annual heating and cooling budget approaches a certainty.

An average house built or renovated before 1980 requires 20 times more energy for heating and domestic hot water production than one built to the Passivhaus Institut Building Standard. Analysts across the spectrum agree that carbon emissions attributable to buildings account for a striking proportion of total carbon emissions produced globally, approximately 39%, and that residential structures contribute well over 53% of this total. Further, it's widely recognized that concentrations due to buildings in major cities like like Atlanta, Chicago and New York, approach a striking 70%!   Why?  Legacy design, construction and materials defects and inadequacies including - inadequate insulation and inadequate windows and doors, poorly conceived solar orientation, and defective construction practices.  Some analysts suggests that two miles of cracks permeate the average American home.  To actually achieve Passivehaus Institute Building Certification the optimal conditions present with major renovation and new construction.  Chicago's Climate Action Plan identifies 400,000 building renovation candidates and New York City identifies some 750,000 small building renovation candidates. Not a bad start. China has some 35 cities bigger than Chicago.  Gentrifying and transitional neighborhoods present a major opportunity. 

Over 30 years ago Dr Wolfgang Feist, founder of the Passivhaus Institut, and his colleagues hypothesized that building design and construction modifications could render significant reductions in the building's "required energy."  The term "required energy" means that energy required to maintain a stable temperature of say 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the "design temperature." Their modeling suggested that occupant lifestyle and its trappings like computers, lights, TV's, pets and the occupants themselves,  would provide sufficient energy for heating, and, that energy would in effect become trapped within the structure's mass due to radically lower air infiltration and ex-filtration (leaks and cracks) they reasoned. This would result from acute attention to sealing each of the multiple plane intersections that occur in every structure which creates a virtual air tight barrier in the process and the inclusion of continuous layers of insulation along with substantial and redesigned windows and doors that avoid thermal bridges.  Hence, the reasoned, the building itself would be "passive" with respect to its inherent need for energy to maintain a temperature set point. A continuous balanced mechanical ventilation system with a "heat exchanger" was added to the mix. This device, continuously pulls in "fresh" air from the outside while, in an opposing channel, simultaneously exhausts an equivalent amount of "stale" interior air.  While the two air streams never actually mix, energy is exchanged (conducted) between the opposing channels with extremely high efficiency thus retaining the energy in the structure. "What about cooling?", you may ask. The building's thermal mass and relative air tight construction impede energy conduction as seasons change.  Inbound fresh warm air is cooled by outbound cool stale air. Small form heating and cooling "appliances" mitigate heating and cooling extremes. Today, their  modeling software is known as the "PHPP" - the Passivhaus Institut Planning Package, and inbound air is highly filtered before distribution and filtered again through small form heating and cooling appliances when called upon.

With occupant comfort and energy efficiency as primary objectives, in and around 1990 Dr. Feist and colleagues built the first prototype of their idealized building, a set of four "passive" row-houses in Darmstadat-Kranichstein, Germany paying acute attention to the design and construction of the building envelope.  The term "building envelope" means the entire roof, wall, window, door, vent, foundation, and floor "assembly," -  that's every layer between the far inside layer and far outside of each surface.  As scientists, they collected ample amounts of granular data and when analyzed the output far exceeded expectations especially related to building performance and occupant comfort. Studies show these building perform as well today as then.  Today, ten's of thousands of Passivhaus Institut Certified Buildings exist of all types in all climate zones from the equatorial to the arctic and on all continents, - even Antarctica.  Remarkably, this building requires no dedicated heating source as 100% of the its heat results of solar gains and, the occupants and their activities.  Take a look.

Over the years remarkable building performance and glowing occupant testimonials resonated with multiple public minded institutions.  In the United States, Habitat For Humanity has undertaken several such Passivhaus Institut Building Standard projects.  Click here to check out Nat Geo videos on Habitat for Humanity and Passivhaus.  Cornell University recently broke ground on a large scale technology campus (Cornell Tech) on Roosevelt Island in New York City that will feature the world's first Residential Passivhaus High Rise.  Brooklyn, NY itself has become a hotbed for Passivhaus Building Standard Brownstone renovation for the cognoscenti.  From around the world, regular folks glowingly report that their passivhaus standard homes provide unmatched comfort and very low heating, cooling and maintenance expense. Take a listen to their comments. 

5485 South Ellis Avenue represents Chicago's first Passivhaus Institut Building Certification candidate, and it's located in the University of Chicago Campus District steps from the UC Medical Center, Mansueto Library, Ratner Gym, Court Theater, Smart Museum, Manhattan Project Memorial and Physics Departments.  

We've retained ZeroEnergy Design, P.C. as the project's Passivhaus Design Consultant while the Association of Energy Affordability Inc. has agreed to perform certain "third party quality assurance" tests including the independent testing of air tightness through multiple blower door tests during and at the end of the construction process, in accordance with Passivhaus Institut certification protocolsZeroEnergy Design will prepare and submit a certification application to either an accredited Building Certifier or the Passivhaus Institut itself.  Every Passivhaus Institut Certified Building meets rigorous and objective standards as verified by independent third parties and attested to by construction team members. Click here to review the Criteria. Click her to review the EnerPHit Criteria renovation/retrofit.   It's rigorous and involved.  

Ask yourself how many feet of sidewalk you produced this year or how many boxes of tissue you went through due to sinus infections or other respiratory ailments due to poor air quality, or how many bottles of moisturizing lotion you consume because of dry skin and seasonal rashes, or how many trips to the allergist you made because of soot and airborne allergens.  A Passivhaus Institut Certified Building produces pristine air while it significantly reduces a building's heating and cooling energy requirement and therefore its carbon emissions and other toxic pollutants in the petrol-chemical chain.   Lower required energy means lower toxic pollutants. In addition, such a residence promises to deliver unmatched occupant comfort in terms of  acoustic separation, thermal balance, low on-going operating expense, and weather event safety - significantly more so than the status quo.

When we as a society renovate or build new to the Passivhaus Institut Building Standard, we significantly reduce the amount of toxic pollutants that would otherwise be produced, significantly reduce an owner's energy and maintenance expense and significantly increase the quality of life for all.

When you choose to live in a Passivhaus Institut Certified Building you enhance the quality of your life and the quality of life for every living thing.

Make no mistake, for the foreseeable future we need fossil fuel to preserve and enhance our peace, freedom and economic opportunities, to power our trucks, trains, planes, boats, and construction equipment that support and power hospitals, schools, manufacturing facilities and offices that maintain and create jobs -- but we can remove fossil fuel toxicity not only from our personal residences and small buildings but from all buildings with every major renovation and new construction project - in perpetuity.  A far better path exists that serves our individual and collective best interest both environmentally and economically.

 Like ten's of thousands urban planners, architects, builders and property owners around the world who have come before, for both economic and environmental concerns, investigate, inquire and formulate your own opinion. We're here to help in any way we can.  But in the end, for unmatched occupant comfort and the realization of significant economic and environmental benefits, the Passivhaus Institut Building Standard gets the job done - or at least 90% of it.  That's an idea that will change the world.


Michael R. Conners
Kenwood Passivhaus Projects

MBA, University of Chicago Graduate School of Business
Passivhaus Institute Certified Tradesperson