Weinberg Commons


Passive to Positive is delighted to report that we had a festive ribbon cutting last Friday, November 6th.  Residents are moving in and already recognizing the benefits of lower cost and increased comfort that a Passive House can offer.


Weinberg Commons from the south west at the corner of Southern Avenue and Benning Road. “Welcome to Washington DC!”

Any mention of this project would be remiss without a heartfelt appreciation for Matt Fine of ZAVOS Architecture and Design, who poured his heart and soul into this project over the last 3 years.  This is not hyperbole – every inch of these 3 buildings are drenched with his heart and soul.

Mayor Muriel Bowser attended the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and extolled the virtues of this groundbreaking project. Affordability must include considerations of operational energy costs and the health and productivity of its residents.

Weinberg Commons is the first Passive House Apartment Building project in Washington DC and the region, and is one of only two Masonry retrofit Passive House Multi-family projects in the country (to our knowledge – please forgive any omissions of credit).


Mayor Muriel Elizabeth Bowser addresses the assembled dignitaries, design and construction team members, and members of the community Friday the 6th of November, 2015

Bruce Zavos, without whose leadership commitment and advocacy this project would not have come into being, spoke of the power of design to improve lives for individuals, a community and the planet.


Tellin’ it like it is! : Bruce Zavos, Prinicpal of Zavos Architecture and Design

IMG_5517    IMG_5490

Thanks to Blaise Rastello, formerly of Transitional Housing Corporation for having the vision, determination, and creativity (and financing wizardry) to bring this project to fruition, and the whole team at THC, who have done a remarkable job, in a system that does not often reward folks for stepping out and doing above an beyond the call of duty (and minimum performance requirements).

WEINBERG COMMONS: Project background and History

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The existing buildings

Weinberg Commons is an affordable housing project comprised of 3 1960’s era brick and block buildings with single pane, aluminum frame windows.  All 3 buildings, totaling 37 2 bedroom apartments will be retrofitted using the same assemblies and systems.  Building “C” on Southern Avenue will be certified Passive House, but all buildings show sufficient energy demand reductions to meet the Passive House design criteria.  The project was written up recently in the Frederick News – post.

delta commons interior existing

The buildings are in tough shape

The buildings are a serious challenge to a Passive House designer due to myriad, unfavorable existing conditions.  Building Science issues are as important (or more) than energy performance in our design.  The buildings are modeled in WUFI Passive, the hourly climate data driven dynamic simulation tool by the Fraunhofer Institute, in collaboration with PHIUS.

37 unit, multifamily, Passive House Retrofit

37 unit, multifamily, Passive House Retrofit

The morning after our foam free insulated foundation pour in western Maryland we had another eventful day.  Weinberg Commons Broke ground.  There has been a long period of design and preparation to get this right, and now we are underway!

Washington DC  Mayor, Vincent Gray, attended the ground breaking with a host of administration officials, non-profit developers and financing agencies.  There are significant obstacles for spending more on the quality of the building enclosure in the affordable housing financing and regulatory framework, so it took real commitment, dedication, and creativity to bring this deal about.  Transitional Housing Corporation is the non-profit, developer, and Blaise Rastello, in his first major project for THC has done an absolutely fantastic job of shepherding this through all the complicated negotiations and design process.

Weinberg grnd brk07

Mayor Gray prepares to address the assembled dignitaries and community members

Mayor Gray put it well when he said “You know this Passive House design business, they tell me about it, and I am sure there are all these terrific explanations of what it is and how it works, but you know what it really means to these families that are going to live in these buildings?  It means they will pay almost nothing for utilities!  That is what it means to these people!”

Weinberg grnd brk21

Weinberg grnd brk08

Matt Fine and Bruce Zavos of ZAD passiv

I have been working very closely with Matt Fine and Bruce Zavos of Zavos Architecture and Design, which now has a Passive House dedicated arm known as ZAD passiv.  Matt Fine is heading it up, and I can honestly say, you could not ask for a more diligent and committed collaborator. I am very grateful to him (and Bruce and the whole team) for the amazing work that has been done on this project.  Matt and I presented on the project at the North American Passive House Conference in San Francisco in September. I will share some of the project modeling information in the near future but for now I will post some details.  More to come soon!

delta Commons_wall redering              delta commons_parapet

Weinberg commons is forging ahead.  There has been a lot of amazing progress and, of course, a lot to learn from experience in the field about detailing for “constructibility”, practical sequencing, and successful implementation.

In both of my retrofit projects including Weinberg Commons, we are unable to do preliminary blower door tests early in the construction process for a variety of reasons, so attention to detail during construction is essential. If we do not get it right, we will not know it until it is too late in the process to do much about it.  As a designer and consultant I am frequently asked if something is really necessary, but in truth, in this scenario, there is really no way to tell, and one must assume that being conservative is the best way to ensure any chance of hitting a specific target like the Passive House air-tightness standard

It is particularly challenging on a large project with many subs and large work crews responsible for different aspects of the air-tight envelope.  Quality control is key.  Despite the inevitable concerns and challenges, it is very exciting seeing this project become a reality.

Weinberg site visit14

Matt Fine of Zavos Architects and design inspects roof sheathing and parapet taping.

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staging roof joist sistering, sheathing, taping, and external insulation. Lots happening at once!

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TJI's attached_2

Wood I-Joists going up

TJI's attached

Attachment detail

The Mento Plus WRB going up and wrapping the window boxes.

perfect shading1

furred out ventilation cavity outboard of the insulation and WRB prior to cladding. Note the fixed architectural shading performing as designed.


Cladding going up



Common ERV exhaust port


Chris Conway of Conway Energy performing the blower door test

Weinberg Commons passed the blower door test to meet Passive House criteria of .6 ACH50.  We tested out at .54ACH50.  Given the challenge of air sealing a brick and block building from the inside below grade, and from the outside above grade, and managing the transition between them, we were very happy with the results.  Air sealing steel open web trusses pocketed into CMU block (as in our basements and crawl-spaces) is not your preferred Passive House detail!

By the way, you won’t find a finer Passive House Rater (really a collaborator) than Chris Conway.  I am working with him of a few projects and have really enjoyed it.

Dynaimic Duo

Matt Fine (right) and Michael Hindle of Passive to Positive experience the joys of crawl space inspections during the PH blower door test. (Image thanks to Chris Conway of Conway Energy)



The Southwest shading boxes performing exactly as designed on an autumn afternoon.

5 thoughts on “Weinberg Commons

  1. Pingback: The Fifth Estate | US Capital opens doors to Passive House affordable multi-res project

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