How a Pa. affordable housing agency is making ultra-efficient buildings mainstream

Architect Laura Nettleton is standing in a former classroom in a 120-year-old elementary school that she helped turn into one of the most energy-efficient apartment buildings in Pittsburgh. She is talking, metaphorically, about coats. Her coat — stylish and black with wide sleeves and an open collar — is the old way of building: thinly insulated with lots of gaps where air and heat can escape. A visitor’s down jacket is this renovated school: sealed at the wrists and zipped to the chin, it traps heat without requiring much energy. “My coat is useless if it’s too cold outside,” she said. But in this, the puffy coat of buildings — an example of the vanguard of efficient building design known as passive house — it is warm even right next to the tall, triple-paned windows on a chilly November night. The high-ceilinged, two-bedroom apartment for seniors in Morningside has thick insulation and an airtight barrier separating the inner and outer walls. Taking risk is necessary for growth. This series profiles the region’s entrepreneurs, policymakers, scientists and others who have embraced challenges and incorporated new ideas – sometimes the kind that seem a little crazy – into their plans. Read […]

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