‘Passive House’ Standard Gaining Ground in Multifamily Housing

Developers in Chicago and around the country are taking notice of a design standard that encourages energy efficiency and sustainable materials.

2 minute read

August 9, 2023, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Installation of external wall thermal insulation with rock wool on Passive House residential building.

Thermal insulation on a building designed to the Passive House standard. | sommersby / Adobe Stock

Multi-family housing developers in Chicago are embracing Passive House design standards to lower their carbon footprints and reduce costs. As Lizzie Kane reports in the Chicago Tribune, “Multifamily developers, particularly those building affordable housing, in Chicago have begun to embrace Passive House design in the last few years thanks to local industry professionals advocating for changes in the city and state building energy codes, as well as buy-in from ComEd, the primary energy provider in the state.”

“Passive House design focuses on making a building tightly sealed by including features such as triple-paned windows and wraparound insulation to keep outside temperatures from creeping in (and noise too), as well as ventilation systems to keep air quality fresh,” Kane explains.

The Passive House standard, originally geared toward single-family homes, is being implemented on around 275 multi-family projects nationwide, according to a study from the Passive House Network. “The study said in order to speed up the pace of Passive House development, local, state and federal policymakers should finance incentive programs, offer professional training, increase provisions in state affordable housing programs and amend compliance rules in energy codes.” Passive House was recently added to Chicago’s Sustainable Development Policy and the city’s building code.

Kane describes other city and state policies in the works that will incentivize the Passive House standard and make it easier to build low-impact, efficient buildings at lower cost. Outside of Illinois, “Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut lead the way in multifamily buildings being developed to meet the Passive House standard, with each state having more than 50 properties in the pipeline or already completed, according to Phius’ database.”

Tuesday, August 8, 2023 in Chicago Tribune

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

May 21, 2024 - The Architect's Newspaper

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

Ornate, tan stone capitol building with a gold dome roof and low-rise city buildings in the background.

States Are Banning Guaranteed Income Programs

Four states now have laws in place that prevent cities and counties from creating or continuing guaranteed income programs, and several more have tried or are trying.

May 23, 2024 - Bloomberg CityLab

View of downtown Dallas, Texas skyline with skyscrapers against twilight sky.

Dallas Hopes to Boost Economy With TV and Film Tax Breaks

The Dallas city council voted unanimously to request a designation from the state that would allow the city to offer sales and use tax exemptions for redevelopment of TV and film production facilities.

May 27 - The Dallas Morning News

Close-up of mobile phone with Airbnb and VRBO app icons.

Proposed Bill Would Outlaw Nearly Half of Cleveland's Airbnbs

The proposed new ordinance aims to help combat the Cleveland's housing crunch and eliminate nuisance complaints related to short-term rental properties.

May 27 - Cleveland Scene

White and peach Florida state capitol building with palm trees in front in Tallahassee, Florida.

Florida Rolls Back Renewable Energy Goals

A new state law eliminates language calling for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and makes it easier to build natural gas pipelines.

May 27 - News Service of Florida

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.