Construction projects at Kane’s Passive House are moving right along, with lots of progress reported in recent weeks and more to come before year’s end.

As for most building projects, the coronavirus pandemic interfered with the original timeline for completion in November 2021. However, hopes are high to be ready to welcome tenants in Spring 2022.

The Passive House Project has made local contractors and materials a goal whenever possible. One aspect of the building, however, has arrived after a 23-day journey, which included an ocean crossing in a container ship from where it was created — Germany.

RAICO is a company based in Pfaffenhausen in Bavaria, Germany. They “develop and distribute custom-made glass curtain walls which make unique architectures shine in all their glory,” according to their website.

“One of our biggest missions was to use as much local labor and materials as possible. The stone is being quarried right down the road, contractors are local. We are working to keep the money in Kane as much as we can,” said Barbara Robuck, who handles Marketing and Communications for West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund. “We couldn’t do the front without the RAICO curtain wall system and the only one certified was in Germany.”

Robuck noted that RAICO is the first curtain wall system vendor in the world to offer passive-house certified curtain walls made of wood, steel and aluminum — setting the benchmark in the industry.

“There are timber-frame pieces of wood that make up the entire front of that building. Then the glass, they call them glazing, gets put into the curtain wall and that creates the front of the building,” Robuck said.

She explained that the curtain wall resembles a sort of large wooden grid, which will also be a key component to the installation of the metal and stone elements of the building front in the future. Three large sections of the curtain wall were transported from Germany and delivered to Kane.

“The curtain wall is being installed as we speak, and within the next three weeks, glazing will be placed in the curtain wall and they will start to prep for stone,” Robuck said. “They hope to have stone on the front of the building by Christmas.”

On Oct. 9, a social media post indicated that Passive House received a shipment of windows, which weighed 6,000 pounds.

Meanwhile, the solar panels have been installed and they are bifacial, which means not only will the sun shining from above directly reach the panel, allowing photons to be absorbed, but the sun will reflect off of the roof, which was painted white, and onto the secondary face of the panel, allowing for additional collection. The cells in the panel absorbing photons creates an electric field across the layers, which causes electricity to flow.

“We will be doing a sort of study; not a lot of people are using bifacial panels right now,” Robuck said. “So we will be paying attention to how much more efficient it is to go with bifacial rather than with a panel that collects solar energy only from the top.”

Robuck explained that they estimated the progress on the entire project to be between 60 and 70% complete. Most of the necessary but invisible aspects of the building, including but not limited to the electrical wiring, ductwork, fire suppression and high speed internet, are in place. Drywall is currently being installed, with plans to work on taping, mudding and tile laying still on the to-do list.

“One of the biggest challenges to making buildings energy efficient is air leakage,” Robuck explained. “With the Passive House, you have almost zero air leakage.”

She noted that some people have expressed concerns about the air quality and potential downside of a building that is so self-contained.

“We have a heat recovery ventilator that continually brings in fresh air from outside,” Robuck said. “This is to make sure the building is healthier than a building that is not buttoned up so tight. This is a very healthy building. We are also trying to bring in a lot of natural light.”

Finally, as the Passive House construction continues, locals are gaining experience and pursuing certifications in the field. Donna Zariczny of InScale Architects out of Warren, who is working with Gary Moshier Studio, the certified Passive House Architect on the project, just completed rigorous training and testing through the North American Passive House Network to obtain her certification. She is now a Certified Passive House Designer.

Local contractors on the job are also seeing a new way to get the job done, and some have expressed the intent to utilize the knowledge in future construction for themselves.

“We have helped contractors take a second look at how they’ve been building, They see they can build to code and not spend a whole lot of money up front and have larger energy bills, or they can spend a little more up front and have really low energy bills,” Robuck said. “Now they have been on the job, they see the technical things that go into this building and how it’s going to work, and we’re actually sort of trying to change the tide in the construction industry.”

She said that contractors are seeing the benefits in this project of building to a better standard.

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