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May 15, 2024

Multiplying Our Mission in the Catskills’ First Passive House Community

Passive House - Bensonwood Homes in the Catskill Project - timber frame, timber house, design homes, open home, prefab homes
Livingston Manor

In upstate New York, the Catskill Region is famous for its wild and abundant landscape, which artists, hikers, and travelers have long sought out as a perfect retreat. With undulating hills, dense forests, and rolling rivers, it’s a place that brings a sense of solace and peace. It was this environment that inspired the Catskill Project, an innovative, 90-acre community that sets Passive House design principles at its core.

The model home for the Catskill Project, the first carbon-neutral community in the Catskill Mountains of southeastern NY.

A Pioneering Approach to Passive House Design

“It’s the respect of the environment and those underlying, embedded ecological systems, which are driving our design and thought processes,” described architect Buck Moorhead (BMA). An overall goal of the project is carbon neutrality, both in the development of the site and in the creation of each Certified Passive Home.”

Located at the gateway to the Catskills in Livingston Manor, NY, the property offers residents three to six-acre lots. These lots have been carefully cleared, taking down as few trees as possible. The cherry, ash, and soft maple hardwoods go through local mills to become floors and ceilings.

The intention of each carbon-neutral house is to contribute to its residents’ health and well-being. And that’s how our part in the story began. When the Catskill Project team first reached out to us, they were interested in our prefabricated, energy-efficient Unity Homes.

How Tektoniks Helped Achieve Passive House Excellence

The plan to create multiple high-performance structures at the Passive House certification level presented another possibility. The project seemed like a perfect candidate for our Tektoniks Program. In partnership, Tektoniks connects our high-performance building systems to others in the industry with aligned objectives. By using this approach, the Catskill Project benefited from our prefabrication capabilities. The precision possible in our factory makes Passive House performance a replicable outcome instead of an exceptional achievement. That’s why we strive for a stringent airtightness standard (0.6 ACH@ 50 Pa). 

Pictured: Crew members installing a large, triple pane window in wall panel at the Bensonwood Tektoniks factory in Keene, NH.

The Catskill Project benefitted from our factory-precision fabrication capabilities which makes the Passive House level requirements a replicable outcome instead of an exceptional achievement 

The Highest Standards for Passive House 

As company founder Tedd Benson said, “Our collaboration with the Catskill Project has been incredibly well-aligned from the start because of their goal to reach homebuilding’s highest performance standard. The Catskill Project is committed to achieving the Passive House standards that are difficult to achieve in the field, but in our factory, it’s a natural outcome of our typical production process.”

The 5 Principles of Passive House Design 

In fact, all Bensonwood projects use the five principles of Passive House Design:

  1. Continuous Insulation – thermal bridge-free design helps to reduce a building’s heating and cooling needs, improving comfort.
  2. Airtight Construction – minimizing infiltration of outside air and loss of conditioned air is important for the durability of the enclosure as well as energy savings. 
  3. Optimized Windows – high-performance double or triple-paned windows and doors, depending on climate and building type, with additional focus on proper heat gain and orientation in the design.  
  4. Balanced Ventilation – high-quality ventilation with heat recovery reduces energy loss and enhances air quality. 
  5. Minimal Mechanical Systems – “right-sized” equipment that uses minimal energy to handle low heating and cooling loads. 

Learn more about our approach to Passive House level design on our website.  

According to Benson, the ability to apply these principles to an entire development was an opportunity of a lifetime. “Our company’s mission is to constantly advance our capabilities, capacity, and culture to bring the best standard of living to more people,’ so I was excited about the prospect that in one place, that mission could be multiplied.” When Tedd went to New York to walk the land with the Catskill Project founders, the shared values and objectives became the basis for an ongoing partnership. 

Our Mission 

To constantly advance our capabilities, capacity and culture to bring the best standard of living to more people 

Passive House - Bensonwood Homes in the Catskill Project - timber frame, timber house, design homes, open home, prefab homes
The Catskill Project and Baukraft Engineering PLLC

Panel Systems Designed to Perform 

“We’ve been very fortunate to be partnering with Bensonwood,” Moorhead noted. The architect’s Passive Home plans were an excellent fit for the high-performance wall and roof panel systems by Tektoniks. 

Above and beyond Passive House performance, our building enclosure system is ideal because it is fully customizable. Bensonwood has the advantage of off-site prefabrication in our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. We can guarantee a higher quality, consistent structure with greater cost certainty and faster turnaround than traditional construction methods. 

For the first home built in this development, Bensonwood’s crew assembled the entire building shell in just three days. The Balsam model home is now fully complete, furnished and ready for visitors to tour and learn about the community. Two additional Balsam model homes are now underway after initial excavation in the fall of 2022.  

Future homeowners look on in excitement as the finishing touches add to the shell.

Making it Official

The Catskill Project is now in the process of receiving Passive House Certification based on the Balsam model. This includes a ‘Blower Door’ airtightness test to confirm the airtight construction.  

Passive House certification requires a maximum of 0.6 air changes per hour at 50 Pascals pressure. In addition, the home must require very little energy to maintain a comfortable temperature year-round. When tested internally, the Balsam model home met each of the criteria and demonstrated exceptional performance.

Bringing It All Together

When our part was complete, an impressive team of local carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and painters descended on the site. They collaborated to make the Balsam as beautiful on the interior as it is on the exterior.  

From inside, residents can view the expanses of nature from every angle. The soaring great rooms’ oversized windows and the contemporary kitchens with their floating shelves are central. Details like porcelain tiles, Kohler fixtures, and highly durable FSC® certified Richlite Black Diamond countertops bring the entire space together.  

Perhaps most notably, the home will remain at a comfortable temperature in any season. Those living inside will benefit from continuous, filtered, fresh air. This is due to the meticulousness of each step in the fabrication process. Our precision robotics construct a high-performance shell to pass rigorous inspection and testing of every component. 

Additional features of these homes include: 

  • Frost-protected, slab foundation 
  • WFB10 wall with continuous insulation and insulated service chase (R-47) 
  • Roof with 16” cellulose with insulated service cavity (R-60) 
  • Unilux tri-pane wood-aluminum windows (U-0.15) 

The Balsam Home Test Experience

An individual who stayed at the model Balsam home for a test experience before purchasing a house offered a testimonial. “We quickly realized the benefits of passive house design during our stay at the model house this winter. With the temperature set at 68 degrees, we were prepared to turn the heat up to at least 70 degrees upon our arrival. It wasn’t necessary as we had a very cozy and comfortable indoor temperature all weekend long. The efficient windows and superior insulation (and the elimination of air leakage) kept the additional layers we packed in preparation for a cold winter weekend packed in our travel bags until we returned home.” 

With minimal operating and maintenance costs, these homes have resiliency in mind. They illustrate the possibilities and highlight the benefits of carbon-neutral living, passive house design, and panelized construction. Moorhead noted: “We consider this project to be a new paradigm for the future of living in a rural environment.” It’s a project we’re certainly proud to be a part of and one that has allowed us to bring a better way to build to more people.

Triple-glazed windows and thick, super-insulated walls provide consistent indoor temperatures all year long.

To learn more about the first carbon-neutral community in the Catskills, visit their news page here.

We consider this project to be a new paradigm for the future of living in a rural environment.

– Buck Moorhead
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