Brooklyn Heights Apartment Building Transformed Into A Luxury “Passive” Townhouse

Passive houses are on the rise in NYC as home owners are investing in their economic and ecological future.

By Jeff Vasishta January 4, 2017
Photos courtesy of Susan De Vries / Baxt Ingui / Compass

There’s nothing too passive about the $16 million price tag. A luxurious six-story Brooklyn Heights brownstone on Willow Street, one of the most coveted blocks in the neighborhood, is asking big bucks for a small carbon footprint. Deemed to be a “passive” house because of its energy efficiency, the newly renovated 8,850-square-foot mansion includes seven bedrooms, seven full bathrooms and two powder rooms.

Originally built in 1920, the 25-foot-wide townhouse took two years for architects Baxt Ingui to remodel the former apartment building into a single family residence.

“Not only is this house exquisitely designed cosmetically, restored to its former grand single-family status with every conceivable modern amenity, but it is also a technologically advanced house with ‘passive house’ engineering, making it incredibly energy efficient,” Leonard Steinberg, president of Compass, who is co-listing the property with Oliver Brown from the same brokerage, told Mansion Global.

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The property counts a seven-zone air conditioning system with a two-zone Zehnder Energy Recovery Ventilator and an advanced Lutron lighting system amongst its other passive/LEED qualities. The term “passive  house” was originally coined just over a decade ago in Germany. The basic premise is that they maintain a comfortable interior climate without active heating and cooling systems, which in the Big Apple’s extreme weather seems like a far reach. Thus in New York, small heating and cooling systems are generally included in passive homes.

Clearly the big draw, other than the positive’s for the environment, are low heating and cooling bills, and cleaner air. In NYC, the trend is slowly catching on, fueled in part by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Green Buildings initiative, which has a target of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“Building to passive-house standards just makes a lot of sense,” Stephen Lynch, an architect and principal of Caliper Studio, who retrofitted his townhouse in South Slope, Brooklyn, using passive house principles two years ago, told The New York Times. “There are some cost hurdles and a learning curve, but those challenges can be overcome, he said, “and then you realize how amazing it is that we don’t already build to these standards.”

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Features of passive houses include triple-pane windows, added insulation, along with the smaller boilers and smaller heating and air-conditioning systems. They are often accompanied by green elements that can include solar thermal hot water systems, induction cook tops and water recycling systems.

The first official Certified Passive House in New York City was the Tighthouse in Park Slope, which kind of looks like an Apple store placed inside a brownstone. The 120-year-old home featured an exterior EIFS insulation system, which turned the brownstone grey.

“A key element of Passive House design is airtightness,” Shannon, principal architect for Prospect Architecture told ZehnderAmerica. “Without airtight construction, the best insulation available is wasted. To understand this, think of water leaking out of a cup. Regardless of how thick and strong the cup is, if you have a hole at the bottom, the water will leak out.”

Because of the air sealing, virtually no outdoor air can infiltrate the retrofit brownstone. With the Zehnder energy recovery ventilator, the air in the home exchanges with fresh filtered air every three hours. In addition, the ventilator pre-heats or pre-cools the incoming air depending on the weather conditions by recycling heat and coolness from the exhaust air before it leaves the home.

It all sounds wonderfully efficient. Now prospective passive homeowners need to devise an efficient way to pay for it.


Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.
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