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Inside Haus 96, America's First Multi-Family Passive House

In It's Not Easy Being Green, Curbed contributor Matt Hickman will pull back the curtain on cutting-edge, environmentally friendly design, from urban passive houses to green tweaks on suburban living. Have a suggestion for an upcoming column? Pass it along.

Just up the road from the billion-dollar arena that Jay-Z (fractionally) built in Brooklyn's leafy Prospect Heights nabe, you'll find Haus 96, what's being billed as the first multi-family passive house project in the United States to hit the open market. And like the federal government's new energy-saving showhome-laboratory, blending into the surrounding environs—in this instance, brownstone after brownstone after brownstone—was just as much of a concern for the developers of this pre-war property-turned-habitable thermos as dramatically forcing down those energy bills with the assistance of dense layers of insulation and high-performance windows was. Walk by it on the street, and one would probably never guess that the four-story building was made airtight with $60K worth of triple-paned windows.

The first project from green developer Brendan Aguayo, the gut-rehabbed Haus 96 has already achieved some sale success, since hitting the market in September. The first sale, a ground-floor duplex, brought in $1.4M, for a 1,429-square-foot unit with three bedrooms, two full baths, and a host of high-end bells and whistles: Carrara marble tiling, limestone countertops, Bosch appliances, cast iron claw-foot tubs, Toto dual-flush toilets, lighting fixtures from Restoration Hardware, a built-in iPod dock plus a private patio.

Much of the same goes for the building's remaining three two-bedroom units, each 833 square feet apiece and selling for $829K. Yet instead of the patio, residents of the two-bedroom condos get access to a rooftop terrace with "sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline."

Each unit in the "premiere boutique condominium" also comes complete with a fireplace—a interesting touch considering the fact that they get their warmth from sunlight and heat generated by appliances and inhabitants (there's naturally a complex ventilation/recovery system in place within each unit)—but, alas, they're stunt fireplaces and just for show. "I liked the idea of it–something different to look at," Aguayo tells the Observer. "I guess we're letting them know that they never need to use a fireplace." How very clever!

Boasting Passive House EnerPHit certification (a standard for passive house refurbishment) and geared to consume 60 to 70 less energy and 90 percent less heat than similar buildings, Haus 96 is actually the first passive house project for Aguayo, a first-time developer who is brokering the units himself. Apparently, he is hooked and jumping aboard the passive house train that's been roaring through Brooklyn the past couple of years. And speaking of jumping aboard, project architect and seasoned passive house-r Ken Levenson looks into green housing crystal ball: "This isn't a trend or a fashion. Passive Houses will become the new standard. People in Europe are already on board, so it makes sense that New York is next."

· Haus 96 [official site]
· 96 St. Marks Ave. [Streeteasy]
· Nation's First Passive House Condos Hit the Brooklyn Market [Curbed NY]
· Eco-Conscious Passive Houses Aggressively Hit Brooklyn [New York Observer]