Season 2:

Episode 21

October 5, 2021

Wilderness Drive with Jenny Peysin

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This week we will be speaking with Jenny Peysin, a licensed architect based in Brooklyn, NYC, about her current passive house project, Wilderness Drive in the Catskills region of upstate New York. As the founder of Jenny Peysin Architecture, her approach to design is rooted in a modernist philosophy, one that incorporates people with the spaces in which they live and work. She has also become a certified passive house designer and has since shifted her focus towards this way of designing and building. In today’s episode, we will be speaking to her about this topic of passive housing, along with how this is changing the current urban landscape in order to reduce our current ecological footprint. Moreover, this conversation will explore the changing policy and shifting structure of our urban landscape that is now enabling more transformation to occur than ever before.

Passive houses, which are ultra-efficient dwellings that use a fraction of the energy to heat regular homes, are increasingly seen as a solution to rising greenhouse gas emissions. Today we will speak to Jenny about how her work, including her Wilderness Drive project in Green County, in the Catskills Region of New York, has provided energy-efficient infrastructure and utilities. Join us as we explore this topic and much more, including how Jenny is currently re-shaping the current urban landscape to incorporate more sustainable designs.

About Jenny Peysin

Jenny Peysin is a licensed architect based in Brooklyn, NYC, who has previously worked with Blaze Makoid Architecture and Iu + Bibliowicz Architects. She is a registered architect in the states of New York and Connecticut and holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University. Jenny also interweaves her love of New York City and its rich history with her work as the founder of Jenny Peysin Architecture. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, she also received her certificate of passive house design and has since been passionate about incorporating sustainability into every level of her projects. Her current focus is on incorporating residential projects and providing client-oriented design solutions that reduce carbon emissions and meet international climate targets.

[00:00:00] Announcer: What goes into making an iconic building in America? What are the stories and who are the people behind the next generation of architecture? If your work touches the real estate industry in any way or you’re just curious about what goes into one of a kind cities and towns all across our country, join us on the American Building Podcast.

In season two, we learn about everything from skyscrapers to single family homes. From the famous and soon-to-be famous designers and developers responsible for them. This season focuses particularly on the pandemic and how our buildings will change in response. Our sponsor is the iconic design firm, Michael Graves Architecture & Design. And now your host award-winning architect-turned entrepreneur Atif Qadir, AIA.

[00:00:59] Atif Qadir: This is American building, and I’m your host author Atif Qadir. We are recording from the historic home of world-renowned architect, Michael Graves in Princeton, New Jersey. Check out this amazing space for yourself at the Michael Graves Architecture and Design YouTube channel. Now let’s build something.

Today, our guest is Jenny Peysin. Jenny is a licensed architect based in Brooklyn. She founded Jenny Peysin Architecture in 2016. She previously worked as a designer at Blaze Makoid Architecture. She became a certified passive house designer right before the pandemic and has been shifting our focus towards this way of designing and building.

We will discuss one of our current passive house projects, Wilderness Drive in the Catskill region of upstate New York. More broadly, we will talk about the origins and the process of passive house design and why it’s particularly important in the face of the rapidly changing climate we’re experiencing firsthand in the Northeast United States.

Thank you so much for being here with us, Jenny.

[00:02:06] Jenny Peysin: Thanks for having me.

[00:02:07] Atif Qadir: Absolutely. So your path as an architect started at Carnegie Hall. Tell us about that.

[00:02:14] Jenny Peysin: Yeah. So when I got out of college in 2009, out of Cornell architecture school, it was the height of the recession and it was, you know, nobody was hiring.

So I ended up staying up in Ithica for another year to teach. And then when I came back to New York City, a friend of mine was working on the renovation of Carnegie Hall and got me involved in the project. So I started at this small company. It was really just four people on this renovation on this massive historic renovation of Carnegie Hall.

And so I really got a lot of experience doing many things on that project.

[00:02:47] Atif Qadir: And which firm was that, again?

[00:02:49] Jenny Peysin: The company was called the Iu + Bibliowicz Architects. It was by Union Square. Yeah.

[00:02:53] Atif Qadir: What was the the scope of the renovation? It must’ve been such a challenge working on an iconic project like that.

[00:02:58] Jenny Peysin: It was, yeah, and obviously it was landmarked. Many of the spaces, interior spaces and exterior obviously were landmarked. And the scope was to create a music school and also to create new office spaces for all the back of house staff. So part of the music school was creating performance spaces and practice spaces, and we also made a new roof deck, a whole new roof terrace, really beautiful space.

And part of that whole process was also working towards LEED certification, which was very interesting from my perspective at least.

[00:03:30] Atif Qadir: And LEED is focusing on energy and sustainability, correct?

[00:03:34] Jenny Peysin: Yeah and that was kind of my intro into that on such a big project. You work with a LEED consultant basically, who helps you to put together all the pieces that are required to hit a certain level of certification basically.

And those pieces kind of have to do with, you know, how you’re sourcing your materials, what level of air quality you’re getting, if you’re providing enough bike parking, just all these little things that add up to a sustainable building.

[00:04:00] Atif Qadir: Excellent and that essentially is the foundation or an entree into the passive house topic that we’ll be talking about as well later on in the interview.

So the next glamorous place that you headed as an architect was the Hamptons. What were you doing out there?

[00:04:16] Jenny Peysin: Yeah. So after, well, almost right when I was finishing the project in Carnegie, I was actually stayed on it for a little while longer, but basically we moved out to Suffolk county with my husband because he was starting his residency program in Stony Brook University.

And I was looking for interesting architecture to do in Long Island and, uh, found this really great company.

[00:04:36] Atif Qadir: Does that exist?

[00:04:37] Jenny Peysin: It does I’m happy to say. There’s quite a strong culture of modernist architecture out in the east end in the Hamptons. And one of the companies that are doing great work out there is Blaze Makoid Architecture, who I ended up working for and basically working on the ground up very high end, very modern, beautiful homes. A lot of which had a lot of local requirements that did have to do with sustainability. So like solar panels and geothermal powerwere some of the things that are kind of standard because of the local codes and a lot of these homes.

And while we didn’t pursue anything like LEED or passive house, uh, there was definitely still kind of that mentality of like, okay, when you’re building these big things that are already inherently not sustainable because building ground up is already less sustainable than renovating an existing structure, obviously. At least you have these trade-offs that you’re trying to put into these buildings.

[00:05:33] Atif Qadir: So some of these energy sources that you mentioned, solar and geothermal, did they have anything to do with the fact that the Hamptons in some ways are relatively remote to like say New York City or the rest of Long Island? Or that they might be exposed to extreme weather in the terms of hurricanes in July, August, September? Did any of that play into those decisions of alternate energy sources?

[00:05:57] Jenny Peysin: It’s a great question. I actually don’t know how those laws came about or what the reasons were behind them. I think for sure it helps in those situations that these houses are more independent and not relying on the grid as much. So I think, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that these are very large properties. And I think the community felt like it was, it’s kind of like a, trade-off. Like if you’re building something like this, you should be able to give back in that.

[00:06:20] Atif Qadir: And when did you know that you were ready to start your own business? And how did you go about doing that?

[00:06:28] Jenny Peysin: Yeah, so I worked with Blaze for about three years and, uh, was kind of ran a few projects there, actually a few had a project in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and a few projects out on the east end that, you know, the company, uh, Blaze was always very generous and like teaching us how the project works from start to finish.

We were always very active with talking to clients and really taking it from start to finish, which was a great experience. And I learned a lot. And so when my husband finished his residency and we, we knew we were ready to move back to Brooklyn, which was always our goal. I was like, okay, like, should I just try to do this on my own?

Like, I feel like I kind of understand how this works at this point. And we were also talking about starting a family and you know, that kind of autonomy just felt like the right step at that point. And, you know, we were lucky that we knew six months ahead of time that we were going to move. And so I basically spoke to Blaze, and he was very supportive, and I had that six months to put together kind of a business plan and, you know, plan for that kind of going out on my own, which was great.

[00:07:27] Atif Qadir: What were some of the things that you were focused on doing in those six months to get you ready to hit the ground running?

[00:07:35] Jenny Peysin: I mean, it was some of the, kind of the boilerplate stuff coming up with, you know, getting a website together, getting a portfolio together, talking to clients, talking to consultants, thinking about, you know, how I don’t know, bookkeeping is kind of like all that stuff that you don’t necessarily think about. Also just like getting a company like registered.

[00:07:54] Atif Qadir: And all this stuff you don’t learn about when you’re in architecture school.

[00:07:58] Jenny Peysin: Not even close. So that a lot of, you know, that was all kind of a learning experience as well, but it definitely helped to have that buffer period and kind of hit the ground running once I left.

[00:08:09] Atif Qadir: And once you did start up there were a number of projects that you started working on both in New York and Connecticut. And the one that we will be focusing on today is the Wilderness Drive project in Green county in the Catskills. Could you tell us the particulars about the area and the project site itself?

[00:08:30] Jenny Peysin: Yeah. So the town is called East Jewett and it’s actually not far from Hunter mountain. So there’s some really lovely forested areas there for skiing, for hiking, all that. And we found a really just beautiful five acre, wooded lot, gentle hill, like nice little stream on it. Just really lovely lot.

 The way that all started was another architect friend of mine, who was also interested in passive house, which we’ll touch on later, we were kind of just trying to find any way to work on a passive house basically. And it’s the kind of up and coming so there’s not a lot of opportunities. So we were like, okay, why don’t we just create our own opportunity?

And so we bought this piece of land and the first idea was to basically design a modern passive house and sell it kind of like a development. Sell it to anybody who want, and it was the time, you know, it was like right in the middle of COVID, people were looking to go out of the city. It seemed like a really good market for it.

But, you know, as you know, like, it’s just like you do developments, you know, about this. And it was like a whole. It’s just like a lot of difficulty to figure out how to get the right loans, how to get the right investors, all of that. So ultimately, uh, after finding the site and we had looked at a lot of sites.. .

[00:09:39] Atif Qadir: I just want to mention, which is, which is also stuff that you don’t learn in architecture school.

[00:09:46] Jenny Peysin: We got the design part down, I have to say, but this other stuff is definitely a challenge. But, you know, we found the site. We kind of fell in love with it and were like, you know what, why don’t we pivot a little bit and actually build this house for ourselves, between the two couples. We would share it and rent it out when we’re not using it, but also, you know, use it and have be able to bring our kids up there during the weekends and whatnot.

So at the same time, kind of using ourselves as the guinea pigs. So for whatever mistakes we ends up making on this first passive house project, uh, at least that’ll be for us and not for clients.

[00:10:17] Atif Qadir: That’s a really good methodical step-by-step approach. So the site itself is five acres. And is it a flat or sloped? Is it forested? Is there a lot of sun? Like what did it feel like when you were there?

[00:10:34] Jenny Peysin: It’s very, it feels very idyllic. It’s like a very rolling gentle hill. The whole thing is totally forested and some beautiful old trees on there, like old Pines in clusters. And just the rest of it is forested. A little stream at the bottom of the hill.

So part of that would be kind of figuring out how to carefully clear the site without over clearing, obviously, you wouldn’t want to do that. But then you want to make sure that the house is oriented in such a way that you have enough solar gain. Enough shading. There’s a lot of thought that goes into that process, which we’re kind of in the very early stages of putting together. The house itself, we’re thinking would just be a single story, kind of modern bungalow style, probably with two wings for the two separate families, and then like a shared central area for a central kitchen center, living room, play room, probably a bunk room for the kids. So that’s, that’s the kind of typology that we’re thinking of.

[00:11:25] Atif Qadir: And given that you originally thought of this as a development activity, do you think that with the two wings that, that could also potentially say if one of you is there and one isn’t the ability to rent out the other half of the house out? Is that, is there an ability or would you, is that something that you guys are considering as well?

[00:11:42] Jenny Peysin: Yeah. I mean, we, we haven’t thought about it in that way. I just think because of the shared kitchen and shared living spaces, I think it would be a little strange, but it does seem like it’s something that, you know, people may want at least for like a short term rental, just for the hiking, for the skiing.

And, you know, we are planning to build a ton of sleeping space for, you know, bunk beds and all of that for, for kids and for larger families. So we’re hoping that there’s a market for that. It does seem like that based on some of the research we did.

[00:12:11] Atif Qadir: So in total, it should be around 3,400 square feet,. Five bedrooms, three baths. And you’re keeping it to one story or two stories?

[00:12:19] Jenny Peysin: Yeah, we’re going to keep it to one story. And yeah that’s right, what you said is correct. So basically each wing would have its own bathroom. It’s own full bath, and then there’ll be one shared full bath for the bunk room. And, you know, there’s kind of outdoor water activities or whatever it is, you can come straight into that bath and that have to go all the way to the bedroom.

[00:12:38] Atif Qadir: And the overall budget. What are you estimating?

[00:12:40] Jenny Peysin: So the budget came through talking to a lot of contractors, local contractors, trying to understand what they would estimate based on a square foot number for passive house. And we came in at around between a million and 1.3. I think realistically what it’s going to be. So it’s a lot, but we’re hoping that between the two of us, we can find some, some sources of funds.

[00:13:05] Atif Qadir: So that’s the fun of being both the designer and the developer. So with this as the model for a larger plan that you would have to potentially developed properties for sale or for rent. Do you see this as something that you’d be able to scale within this portion of New York, or you see this, the passive house weekend house opportunities as something that can be actually larger across more parts of this area?

[00:13:33] Jenny Peysin: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s very applicable to this climate in general, but also, you know, it really is adaptable because the way, you know, the way that the passive house structure works is that you’re basically the house will maintain whatever you put into it. So if he needs to heat it it’ll stay warm. If you need to cool it, it’ll stay cool.

So that like really simple idea of having this variable, we haven’t talked about the, the different elements of passive yet, but basically having really thermally insulated house is perfect for this kind of environment. And I think as a second home for families in New York City or wherever really it’s perfect because you don’t have to maintain a lot of these complicated systems like HVAC systems that typical houses have. You know, you’re not really worried about all that. Uh, you don’t have an air compressor on the outside sitting in the snow.

[00:14:21] Atif Qadir: And making a lot of noise along the way.

So I think it’s about time that we talk about passive house. It’s actually a pretty popular design strategy that I’ve heard other architects talk about. So we had Anne Rolland, who’s a partner at FX Collaborative on earlier this year, and we focused on a school project, but she had talked about the increasing interest amongst her clients for passive house. So I think it’s something that a number of firms are looking at and are interested in.

[00:14:52] Jenny Peysin: Yeah. That’s so great to hear. I definitely see the interest starting to like become more and more popular, but the way that my passive house instructor, Ed May, he works for a company called Building Type because he created the company called Building Type. He said, basically what you’re doing is you’re building a thermos and not a coffee cup.

So your super insulating the building. So the walls have a lot more installation. The windows have triple three panes of glass instead of two. The exterior frame of the windows is really specifically detailed to minimize thermal bridging.

So that word thermal bridging is another thing that comes up as an overall concept of passive house. So basically where you have installation gaps such as where the structure of a floor meets the structure of a wall. We want to eliminate that thermal bridge. So you want to make sure that the installation is continuous across that barrier, right?

So those two things, and then you are creating an air tight evelope. So that is another kind of important value of passive house, where you really want to make sure that there’s not a lot of air going in and out of the wall, uh, kind of passively.

[00:15:55] Atif Qadir: Thus the name of passive house.

[00:15:59] Jenny Peysin: Basically because of that air tightness of the building, you have to provide a mechanical ventilation. So that really brings in, you know, constant 24 hour fresh air. And so you have this really, really great quality of indoor air.

[00:16:13] Atif Qadir: So a few things that I want to dive into in case a user aren’t necessarily familiar with some of the terms that you use. When you say envelope, what does that mean?

[00:16:22] Jenny Peysin: Yeah, it’s just basically the exterior parts of the house. So the slab that your house is sitting on. The walls and the roof. And any kind of openings that go into that become part of the envelope. So the windows, the doors, any kind of duct penetrations, plumbing penetrations, you know. So you really have to be mindful when you’re building a passive house that all of those penetrations are attended to really specifically and sealed up so that you have this continuous airtight membrane that goes around the entire shell of the house.

[00:16:56] Atif Qadir: And then you mentioned thermal bridging as being something that you look to avoid. What is thermal bridging and why is that an issue?

[00:17:04] Jenny Peysin: Yeah, thermal bridging is basically, like I said, where, where you have a gap in installation. And so we’re keeping cold can flow in and out of the building more easily. So you’re saying, oh, I have, you know, six inches of insulation in my wall. That’s it. That’s great done.

But if you think about it, like where the beams come to meet the exterior wall, there’s a beam pocket and you know, and then you have a gap and the installation only goes to like two inches. And so you have to think about that as being, you just have to address those really carefully in the detailing.

So when you’re drawing through the building and you have to think, okay, where are my points of thermal bridging going to happen? It’s in, it’s usually where two things come together. Right. So when like a window frame and a wall come together that can create a thermal bridge. So you have to think about how are going to address the installation of meeting the window frame. Like you want to make sure that there’s overlap all the time.

[00:17:53] Atif Qadir: And those are interesting also the places where buildings tend to fail from moisture as well. So it seems like that those are really important points, both from a heat management, as well as moisture management too.

And then the third thing was triple pane. So the concept is three panes of glass. What’s between those panes, and why is that better than say, like double pane or single pane?

[00:18:17] Jenny Peysin: It’s really just the more panes of glass you add and they have an argon in between each pane. Basically the more panes you add, the higher your thermal rating of your window is so the better the window is able to keep the cold out and heat out. And with triple pane, just through the research of passive house, they were able to find that that is kind of the right range for the level of insulation that meets that passive house standard, basically.

[00:18:44] Atif Qadir: Perfect. And then since passive house is a relatively new concept in this kind of modern iteration of it, what are some of the ways that you have developed to communicate the ideas of passive house to your clients?

[00:19:00] Jenny Peysin: Right. So like I said, I only got my passive house certification, like right before the pandemic.

[00:19:08] Atif Qadir: You’re relatively new as well then.

[00:19:09] Jenny Peysin: We are trying, we are trying to introduce all of our clients to passive house. So every client whose project has any possibility basically to become a passive house. And that includes, you know, brownstones in Brooklyn.

Like those it’s really like, so passive house has a separate branch called Enerfit that’s perfect for retrofitting existing building.

[00:19:29] Atif Qadir: Oh. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be new construction.

[00:19:31] Jenny Peysin: I mean, it’s much harder. You can’t really do it within an apartment building. It’s a little bit harder. Although I feel like I have seen an example of that once in like a case study, but basically it’s not really something that works too well, but you can absolutely take an existing building and retrofit it to be passive.

And so basically, you know, eyes do glaze over a little bit when we bring up passive house, but we, but we try to start and kind of tell them here’s what the slightly higher upfront cost is going to get you and what it is going to get you as very comfortable houses that are easy to operate.

You’re going to have a completely sealed envelope. So you’re not going to have those lovely New York City cockroaches getting into your building. You’re going to have basically a 24/7 filtered, fresh air. So very good indoor air quality that you can constantly control, which is great.

[00:20:20] Atif Qadir: And the fresh air is through fans. Is that the idea?

[00:20:24] Jenny Peysin: Yes. Yeah. So it’s like a heat exchange fan.

[00:20:28] Atif Qadir: Got it.

[00:20:28] Jenny Peysin: And so basically it just takes the stale air out of usually the fan there that goes in would be in like the kitchen or the hallway. And then the fresh air will be piped into the bedrooms and the main living spaces. Also, the other benefit is having very even temperatures.

So basically you don’t have a cold spot next to the window. So if you’re leaning against the window, you’re not going to feel that cold, you know, against the glass. Basically the whole house has like a very even comfortable temperature. And then also, I mean, you really get a 70% to 80% savings on heating and cooling expenses, which is huge.

[00:21:02] Atif Qadir: 70% to 80%?

[00:21:04] Jenny Peysin: Yeah. Cause it just takes a drop. It does not take, you know, like it’s really a massive savings in the long run because all it takes is like one little mini split unit to heat and cool a house.

[00:21:16] Atif Qadir: A mini split would be like a through wall unit that does both heating and cooling if needed, right?

[00:21:22] Jenny Peysin: Yeah, exactly. Then basically you could do that same unit, but ducted. So you evenly spread out the air, but the nice thing about passive house is that you don’t need to have like radiators in front of every window to mitigate the cold that is coming from the windows. The grills that you place can be really anywhere they work with the design. So they have a lot of flexibility from that perspective, too.

[00:21:40] Atif Qadir: There’s something that’s, that’s so ironic about the way buildings are traditionally designed in the idea being that heating is put right in front of the windows in order to essentially heat the windows. Cause that’s the area of the largest amount of heat loss. I don’t think many people that are homeowners realize that’s why those things are where they are.

[00:22:00] Jenny Peysin: It’s nuts, but that’s what I guess that’s the trade off for having light.

[00:22:06] Atif Qadir: That’s true for a long time until this is now going to become popularized. I think what you described as 70% to 80% savings is something that is incredibly interesting to people that don’t necessarily have the opportunity or the option for energy savings systems – say like geothermal or solar because of where they’re physically located or perhaps because of the energy company in their area. They may have something, they may be subject to a very cost fluctuating fuel source, like for example, propane.

So my parents live in the Princeton area and that particular utility uses propane. So they’re bills can wildly swing up and down. So this sounds like something that a lot of people probably in this area would be interested in that.

[00:22:51] Jenny Peysin: Yeah, it’s actually very interesting that you bring that up because the origins of passive house, when it started out in the seventies, a lot of the research was by North American builders who were responding to the oil embargo and wanted to build houses that used very little energy. So that’s kind of like, that was like the impetus for it. So yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s completely applicable to today’s environment and kind of global environment.

[00:23:14] Atif Qadir: I think there’s something very important about this, the value of independence of that particular building that you mentioned when we were talking about the Hamptons projects earlier as well in light of climate change. This very rapid move that we need from oil and gas to alternate fuels is this notion of how can you live with the fewest amount of inputs in your house?

I think the large portions of what you described, but I know many of my friends have also taken some of the smaller tinier versions of it, which is like having a COVID garden in their backyard. But it seems like a theme that is very resonant with people in 2021.

[00:23:55] Jenny Peysin: Yeah. And actually this is very true and I wanted to bring up the fact that if you’re doing passive house, you don’t even need to do geothermal, you know, you just, you don’t, you’re using so little energy that solar panels will be more than enough, and you’ll probably be like selling the energy back to the grid at that point, if you’re using the solar panels.

[00:24:14] Atif Qadir: That’s interesting. Cause I feel like energy saving methods and processes may get bucketed in people’s brains in the same place. So they assume that if it’s passive house, then you’re doing geothermal and you’re doing solar and you’re doing this and you’re doing that.

But really, I think as people, as this knowledge becomes more available and it’s more commonly used that there probably is more nuance to it. And people will understand that if you do this, you don’t have to do this too.

[00:24:39] Jenny Peysin: Yeah, what makes it passive is that you’re doing this thing once and it just operates as it is. Like, that is the thing that you built is just is doing its thing and you don’t have to like give it all this input, which is great. It’s like exactly where we need to be.

[00:24:52] Atif Qadir: So I’m going to take a break here to let our listeners know that we’ll be having on another awesome guest next month. Her name is Yasmin Rehmanjee and she’s a partner and the head of the New York office at Buro Happold. And we will be talking about one of the largest redevelopment projects in Detroit right now. Subscribe to the American Building podcast so you don’t miss that episode and any of the other ones with our spectacular guests that we have lined up for the rest of Season Two.

So let’s take a step back and now that we understand the fundamentals of what passive house is about and how people are receiving that and how that’s a very valuable strategy to pursue. What are the origins of the modern passive house movement?

[00:25:36] Jenny Peysin: Right. So, as I mentioned, um, it started out in the seventies, the 1970s, yeah. In the U S and Canada, basically with these builders, trying to find ways to build very low energy buildings in response to the oil embargo. And then it kind of traveled over, across the ocean to Germany where a researcher started putting together like the actual tenants of the actual passive house movement. So in the seventies, it wasn’t quite defined yet for what it was. And then in the eighties, in Germany, basically these two researchers started to put together the actual kind of building science numbers behind this idea of passive house.

And that’s actually where the majority of passive buildings exist today is in the German speaking world. Yeah, so that’s kind of how it started out and very slowly, this movement. I don’t want to call it a movement but it’s basically like a style of building. It’s not prescriptive. It’s a type of building that’s based on goals.

So basically they give you like the amount of air exchanges, like the maximum amount of air exchanges that you’re allowed to have with the interior of the house and the exterior of the house. Like the number of the U value that you have to hit for your walls. So U value that you hit your ceiling like roofs. You know, there’s like specific kind of benchmarks and then you do it however you want to do it. However, it makes sense in your you know, location with whatever it’s building materials you have. That’s the beauty of it too. It’s very adaptable.

[00:27:03] Atif Qadir: I think what’s so fascinating is that in the context of what you’re describing, there are also earlier say a historic references to that. So this year, for example, I’ve been doing a number of road trips across the Northeast, and what I’ve seen really frequently, particularly in rural areas of Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina is this idea of, for example, using a stream water to actually provide cooling for farm goods. Or siting a house to take advantage of what the predominant wind flow is in a particular location.

And it feels like what you’ve described as the origins and the tenants of the movement encompasses a number of other things that probably have earlier more historic references to them. Because when you didn’t necessarily have the optionality of different things, you would have to make do with what was available to you in order to survive and be happy.

[00:28:03] Jenny Peysin: Yeah, and solar gain was definitely one of those things. And originally when they started researching how to make this really low energy use house, the first idea, or one of the first kind of ideas was to have these really large windows and allowing like all of the sunlight and have like a big thermal mass mass that collect the sunlight during the day and then let it out during the night, heating the space.

But through this research, actually in the eighties, they realized that the better way to do that, the more efficient way is to actually super insulate. You still have solar gain that you you’re trying to get, but they were finding the buildings were actually overheating. It was kind of like a greenhouse, and it wasn’t a comfortable living environment. So by super insulating and being a little more specific and controlled about your solar gain and solar shading, that’s kind of how they came to this standard.

[00:28:54] Atif Qadir: We talked earlier about the LEED program and the aspects of that. That’s something that’s pretty widely understood and widely recognized in our industry. How do you compare LEED to passive house and what are the ways that someone can understand the two in context?

[00:29:10] Jenny Peysin: Yeah, I mean, I think the goals of both programs are very much aligned and early in my career because I was first exposed to LEED, I was kind of all in. I did my lead certification. I took the test. It was a great program, and it is a great program. Basically, the way it works with LEED is that you’re working towards points and points add up to a certain kind of LEED certification. So you get a certain amount of points, and you can get LEED Silver, a certain amount of points and get LEED Gold.

And as I was mentioning to you before, there’s like areas of different ways that you can get these points. So like material sources, how efficient your plumbing fixtures are, how efficient your HVAC system is. Making sure that you don’t have enough a lot of like off-gassing in your paints, things like that. So like little by little, all those things add up and you get a certain kind of certification for your building, which is very good, but it’s a little bit different.

And I think it’s a little more applicable to kind of commercial projects. Where frequently there will be somebody who’s collecting all this data and making sure that and keeping staying on top of it and really cataloging all of that. So frequently you’d work with a consultant on a big project like the one that we worked with on Carnegie Hall was called Maderis New York City. They’re great.

That process, you know, I went through that process with Carnegie and it was interesting. And then when I started my own firm and started working for Blaze and seeing kind of more single family, residential work, I couldn’t really put it together in my mind, how that would be applicable to these projects.

And so I started thinking about what are some other systems out there for achieving, you know, these very energy efficient houses. And a friend of mine, actually, that’s the friend that we bought the property with, introduced me to passive house. And she was like, there’s this passive house training class, you know, we’re in the middle of this pandemic, or actually it was right before the pandemic.

She was just kind of like, why don’t we take this class and see if we can learn and, you know, kind of do something different and yeah, it was great. We took it was a one week long class and just a full days, and then there was an exam at the end that was run and graded by somebody in Germany. Okay. So it’s very much still centered there, the whole, yeah, but it was, I mean, just being in that class was like, wow, this can apply to basically, you know, like at least 50% of the work that we do in my office.

Just seems like a no-brainer and I can’t even imagine building any other way now. So yeah, it was really wonderful to see. So the passive house, just to answer your question between the differences, like I said, it’s more of a standard that you’re trying to hit and it’s less of like a collection of checkmarks.

And so it’s a little more flexible. Like if you’re working in upstate New York, the builders more comfortable with stick build wood structures. Well, you can achieve passive house with that. If you’re working somewhere and they want to do sips panels, you know, you can achieve passive house with that.

Um, you know, you can do retrofits in New York City there’s just a lot of flexibility there to get to that standard without having a prescriptive method.

[00:32:01] Atif Qadir: Great. And then for our listeners, you mentioned that there were courses that you’ve taken and a particular instructor. For folks that are designers themselves that want to go down the same path that you did, could you direct them to certain resources. Then for anyone that’s a listener that is interested in having this in their own home, how like a lay person can find out more about this? What would you suggest?

[00:32:24] Jenny Peysin: Yeah. International passive house – just Google it. It’ll come up. They’ll direct you to your local chapters. New York has a passive house chapter. They do conventions. They do kind of trade shows that to educate designers. They also do training courses for builders which is a huge element to this because you really need full buy-in from the GC for these projects. It’s not just something that’s going to happen. It’s going to be somebody there onsite all the time being like make sure you seal that gap. Make sure you seal that gap. But yeah. International passive house organization is really the place to start. And they’re the ones that are based in Germany.

[00:33:00] Atif Qadir: Terrific. So thank you so much, Jenny, for joining us today on the American Building podcast. If you want to hear the behind the scenes stories of how iconic buildings in our country were designed and built, subscribe to this podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google, or wherever you like to listen.

We all know real estate is a tough industry to make it. So how can professionals stand out and make a name for themselves in today’s world? Hear for me, the team at Michael Graves and many of our spectacular guests like Camila on what we did to make it where we are. Grab our exclusive guide Seven Tips on How to Stand Out in Your Field at

Finally, we live in the richest country in the history of humankind. We must reach beyond the boundaries that we see and the boundaries that we create in order to help build homes and help build communities Today, Jenny and I have made donations to Planned Parenthood, which focuses on reproductive healthcare and family planning. I encourage you our listeners to support their worthwhile work as well. My name is Atif Qadir, and this has been American Building by Michael Graves.

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