The Largest Passive House Office Building in the World

Winthrop Center in Boston, Massachusetts, has opened its doors, and with them, a new era of Passive House possibilities.

Recently certified, the Passive House office building is garnering well-deserved attention for its emissions-slashing design. Just this morning, The Boston Globe published an article by David Abel on the building, and if you read closely, you might just see some familiar research on Passive House multifamily buildings:

A 2023 report by the Passive House Network found that such construction in Massachusetts and New York costs on average just 3.5 percent more than a standard building. With incentives from utilities, affordable-housing programs, and federal tax credits and rebates from the Inflation Reduction Act, their report found that some multifamily passive housing is now actually cheaper to build than standard projects.

“Going forward, we expect teams to regularly deliver projects at cost parity, or for less than conventional code construction,” said Ken Levenson, executive director of the Passive House Network, a New York-based nonprofit group that trains developers and others in how to build passive housing. “Cost is definitely not an excuse for avoiding passive house new buildings any longer.”

The report mentioned, Safe at Home, not only demonstrates the potential cost-savings of building to Passive House building standards, but the advantages it brings in comfort, safety, and climate resilience as well. Its ability to keep out the smoke during a wildfire event, for instance, delivers results that a standard building can’t match. The Passive House capacity to reduce emissions and flatten wintertime heating loads is of particular use to developers in Boston, where new city and state rules will require a shift towards electrification, prohibiting buildings from producing any carbon emissions by 2050.

It’s far easier to electrify a building that uses less energy. Although Winthrop Center does utilize gas-fired heating and cooling systems, it’s expected to produce only a quarter of the carbon that a similarly sized conventional building would produce. As Abel observes, many buildings in Boston are unable to use solar, geothermal, or other forms of renewable energy because of their design or location, but “passive housing is likely to play a growing role in helping the state meet its legal requirements of cutting emissions.”

Winthrop Center’s achievement in cutting emissions by 75% over a standard building of the same size is proof that Passive House must be featured in our decarbonization strategies. Our ability to use renewable energy sources may be limited at the moment, but Passive House building practices can be applied anywhere, to any type of building, and it’s a standard that we can implement now.

Our recent policy brief, Stepping Up to Passive shows that Massachusetts is on the path towards Passive House code adoption. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources’ recent revision to their reach code structure replicated the metrics and targets used in Passive House and developed a set of “opt-in” stretch codes available for adoption by local jurisdictions. Additionally, multifamily buildings over 12,000 square feet must deliver Passive House certification for energy code compliance. The way forward is clear. Passive House buildings are the buildings of the future.

With demand for Passive House buildings certain to rise, it’s important to make sure that the talent to design and build them is available. That’s why we offer flexible Certified Passive House Designer training created to help you learn everything you need to pass the exam and start building to Passive House building standards. Our next session kicks off on January 18th, with cohorts based in two different time zones to maximize accessibility. Register now, gain immediate access to materials, and start creating buildings that will stand the test of time.