From XS to XXL: How We See the Future of Passive House Design


The Passive House movement is not only here to stay. All around the world we’re seeing that contractors, architectural firms, and sustainability-minded property owners are embracing Passive House Design.

But if there’s one criticism we have of the term “Passive House” it’s that we don’t think the name does the concept justice. Passive “House” projects aren’t just houses– they come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from commercial spaces, community centers, hospital, schools, etc.

Just in case you aren’t familiar with the building techniques used in Passive House design, here is a quick refresher:

  • Additional insulation is used at walls.
  • Details are designed to keep thermal bridging to a minimum.
  • High-spec, triple-glazed windows are used to control heat loss/gain.
  • A Heat Recovery Unit (HRV) supplies passively-heated fresh air.

It’s also important to know that Passive Houses can be certified in three categories:

  • Passive House: A very energy-efficient structure.
  • Passive House Plus: A highly-energy efficient structure which measures close to net zero in energy consumption. This is achieved by offsetting the building’s energy demand with onsite power generation from renewable resources such as solar power.
  • Passive House Premium: A structure that makes more energy than it consumes.

In our first blog post, we highlighted a few really great projects that we think strike a balance between sustainability and beautiful design. So for this time we’ve decided to open our own sketch books to give you a quick glimpse at some of the exciting Passive House projects that we’ve been working on here at ZH. We have categorized these structures from XS to XXL, just to give you a nice representation of what can (and is!) being done in the Passive House Community.

XS: Single Family Home

Size: 3,500 square feet

Location: Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, renovation

Level: Passive House Certification

Interesting facts: In this retrofit, a heat pump warms the water by extracting heat from the basement. The added benefit of this is that the cooled basement becomes a great place to install a wine cellar. (In our opinion – Passive house and wine are a match made in heaven.)


S: 5 Story Multi-Family Apartment Building

Size:7,500 square feet

Location: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, renovation

Level:Passive House Certification

Interesting facts: This project consists of an existing three story building. We have gutted it completely and are adding two stories onto the building. It is an enerPHit project and will consist of 5 individual apartments.

150817_SK 78Q for ZH Portfolio

M: 8 Story Condo Building

Size: 13,596  square feet

Location: East Village, NYC, new construction

Level: Passive House Plus Certification

Interesting facts: Consisting of 7 high-end condos, this new-build has been one of the most challenging and interesting to design as it will be constructed with CLT (cross laminated timber). This innovative material is quickly gaining traction in the U.S and once complete, this building will be the first 8-story tall Passive House rated CLT structure in New York.


L: 10 Story Condo Building

Size: 25,000 square feet

Location: Tribeca, NYC, renovation

Rating: Passive House Certification

Interesting facts: The original building had five stories, and we are adding another five stories to the top. Another hybrid retrofit building – this project will end up satisfying the Passive House enerPHit standard. The design consists of eight high-end condos.


XL: 20 Story Residential + Commercial Building

Size: 42,913 square feet

Location: Midtown, NYC, new construction.

Rating: Passive House Certification

Interesting facts: This is one of the first Passive Houses with certified commercial use space. It consists of 40 rental units with a variety of studios, 1BR, 2BR, and 3BR units. This project is currently slated as the tallest Passive House on Manhattan Island.


XXL: 50+ Story Feasibility Study

Size: 115,455 square feet

Location: Hudson Yards, NYC

This research project sparked some debate in the office and raised up some interesting questions for us and the larger Passive House Community:

  • What are the challenges in designing a Passive House that is 50-60 stories tall?
  • Does the design language of Passive House that we’ve developed translate to larger scale projects?
  • Will developers have the foresight to invest in this kind of project?

As these projects come to completion and are made public, we’ll be releasing more exciting details, including pictures and on-site videos. We hope you will check back often for project updates.


  1. 10 Frequently Asked Questions About Passive House Design
  2. Meet Itzy & Bo, Passive House Owners from Brooklyn, New York
  3. The Ethical Case For Cross-Laminate Timber Construction in Passive House Design
  4. Is CLT the Architectural Solution to the Building Demands of the 21st Century?
  5. From XS to XXL: How We See the Future of Passive House Design