There could be 2 billion parking stalls in the US, in L.A. that’s more land area than housing. In Des Moines there are 19 spaces per household. In Jackson WY it is 27 spaces per household, costing over $192K per household. Parking covers 5 percent of the US, often empty, lost potential.

I’m gonna start this one out with a bold thesis: Parking is the dominant physical feature of the postwar American city. Not homes. Not strip malls. Not streets, highways, or stroads. Parking. We have a lot of the stuff. A few superlatives can express the sheer amount:

  • There are somewhere between 800 million and 2 billion parking stalls in the United States.
  • There are between 3 and 8 stalls for every registered vehicle.
  • Surface parking lots alone cover more than 5% of all urban land in the United States.
  • That represents an area greater than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
  • In Los Angeles, parking occupies more land than housing.

Those big-picture statistics about parking’s dominance of our landscape can be shocking in the abstract. And they can make for startling visual images, such as everything within the borders of two east coast states paved over: 

Or the literal “parking crater” that would result if we took all 200 square miles of Los Angeles County parking and agglomerated it into one blast radius:

Image via Better Institutions blog
Image via Better Institutions blog

But these images, while shocking in their own way, don’t actually tend to translate to the way people talk about parking in their neighborhoods and at the on-the-ground locations they visit on a regular basis. The scale is too big, so you expect big numbers and you become numb to how big they actually are, in the same way that people react blankly if you tell them what the national debt is, or what the U.S. spends on the military each year. 

How many of us can really conceive of 2 billion as a number, let alone in a way that means anything to our lives?

And so we get to the really funny thing about parking, when you zoom in to the scale at which we actually live our lives, which is just how invisible it is.

Parking Has Eaten Our Cities. Have Most of Us Even Noticed?

Some of the things I talk about as an advocate are easy conversation starters: affordable housing, for instance. Everyone has paid rent or a mortgage. I don’t have to preface that conversation by convincing anyone of the issue’s importance; they get it.

“We require homes and businesses to have too much parking,” though? Way tougher sell. A lot of people stare blankly at me. How could you have too much parking, after all? Sounds like a good problem to have, right? It’s like having too much cranberry sauce on your Thanksgiving table: worst case, you just won’t eat it all and there’ll be some left over.

To understand why too much parking is a problem, you have to recognize how it dominates our environment and squeezes out other possibilities for how we could live and what we could create. But parking is kind of like The Silence from Doctor Who—a monster that has taken over every corner of your world, but as soon as you’re not looking at it, you forget all about its existence.

I wrote in a recent post about how the human brain is wired to conceive of distance as a function of time. We habitually say things like “It’s ten minutes away,” rather than talking in terms of feet or miles. This mental process is why it’s not an intuitively obvious fact that a Walmart parking lot is bigger than a Walmart store. When you drive to Walmart, you spend maybe 1 minute in the parking lot, whereas it takes longer than that just to walk from one end of the store to the other.

And yet it’s true: a Walmart parking lot is, almost without fail, bigger than the store itself. The same goes for many commercial building types. View fullsizeWalmartView fullsizeApplebee’s and Bank of AmericaView fullsizeShopping Mall

Parking has eaten our downtowns. A parking-versus-not-parking map suffices to show that in dramatic fashion. Here’s Peoria, Illinois’s downtown, with all the parking highlighted in red:

 Here’s Des Moines, Iowa:

Zoom in on a suburban commercial corridor in Des Moines, and it becomes plain as day that parking, not buildings, is the dominant feature of the landscape:

We don’t experience the parking in any of these environments as being larger than the actual destination—by which I mean that it doesn’t loom larger in our consciousness. But it is larger, and that has huge implications for our physical imprint on the earth and its consequences.

The United States has roughly 300 square meters of impervious (paved) surface per capita. That’s about 3,200 square feet, or very close to the size of a standard Chicago residential lot, 25’ wide by 125’ deep. That’s a separate one of these for each member of your household, adult or child:

The Netherlands, on the other hand, has only 40% as much paved land per capita as the U.S. For Germany or Japan, the figure is closer to 1/3. You wouldn’t know it from a look at their cities—far less green and lush than ours—but it turns out that a compact development pattern allows far more countryside to be preserved.


All that parking in the far more car-dependent U.S. is not the only reason, but it’s a huge reason why we’ve paved so much more of the earth.

All that parking is pavement that can’t absorb stormwater, leading to flooding and pollution problems from runoff.

All that parking is pavement that absorbs heat from the sun and contributes to the deadly urban heat island effect.

All that parking is pavement that has to be maintained, kept smooth, cleared of snow and ice in the winter.

All that parking is pavement that sewer pipes, power lines, and internet cables must traverse to reach their destinations—with huge cost consequences.

All that parking is pavement that people must traverse to reach their destinations. (If you don’t see the problem with a downtown dotted with surface parking like Peoria’s above, try walking a few blocks in high wind, rain, or snow. You’ll notice the parking lots: they’re the windswept gaps.)

All that parking is pavement that generates no wealth for our cities—that is just an appendage to the places we actually love and care about.

All that parking is lost potential.

Parking Is the Number One Constraint on Our Cities

The actual impact of parking on urban form is far greater than even the amount of land occupied by the parking itself. This is because the requirement to provide parking tends to dictate almost everything else about how we design places, right down to where a building is situated on its lot, how big it is, and where to put the main entrance. This is the real reason why I called it the dominant physical feature of our cities.

Want to open a small retail store? According to a very common parking standard found on literally thousands of cities’ books, you may need to provide one off-street parking stall per 500 sq. ft. of floor area. Here’s the most cramped way imaginable to visualize this:

The reality is even worse than what this diagram depicts, because this just includes the actual parking spaces. But where are you going to put that parking lot? In front of the building? You’ll need a curb cut to get in, and room for a sidewalk and maybe landscaping or a guard rail. If you have more than one row of parking, you’ll need a sufficient drive aisle. Put the parking behind the building? Either you have alley access, or you need a driveway along the side of the building, narrowing the space it can take up.

Buy the adjacent building and tear it down? That’s a common solution, resulting in a “gap-toothed” urban fabric, like in this photo from Pocatello, Idaho. Benjamin Ledford explains how the city’s parking requirements lead directly to this sort of outcome: preserving one good building requires demolishing one or two others in order to make room for enough parking.

Instead of a continuous wall of buildings, these parking “gaps” (which make strolling less pleasant, safe, and convenient) have come to characterize many urban commercial streets and small-town downtowns. (Image via Google)
Instead of a continuous wall of buildings, these parking “gaps” (which make strolling less pleasant, safe, and convenient) have come to characterize many urban commercial streets and small-town downtowns. (Image via Google)

Parking requirements might be the reason you can’t build a triplex or a backyard mother-in-law cottage. They might be the reason you can’t renovate a historic building in your downtown. In fact, parking requirements would render the vast majority of historic “main street” districts in America’s small towns and urban neighborhoods illegal to replicate today.

Want more in-depth examples of how parking can make it impossible to build a compatible building on a small urban lot?

An extreme case of a “parking podium” building. (Source: Eric Allix Rogers via  Flickr )
An extreme case of a “parking podium” building. (Source: Eric Allix Rogers via Flickr)

Parking’s sometimes invisible imprint looms large nearly everywhere you go. It is the reason for “snout houses,” those much-loathed suburban homes that look like a garage with a house attached. Parking dictates design in high-rise districts too, resulting in podium buildings and Texas doughnuts. My otherwise very suburban, low-rise city has a high-rise downtown full of 10-story condos. And yet surprisingly, downtown is not the most densely-populated neighborhood; a trailer park a few miles away takes that honor. How is it possible that a trailer park is denser than a cluster of 10-story buildings? You guessed it: a huge share of the space in those high-rises is actually devoted to parking, not living.

Victor Dover, of the renowned design firm Dover Kohl, tweeted these photos of U.S. downtowns during our 2018 #BlackFridayParking challenge, using a color overlay to show us, in a striking way, the opportunity cost of building too much parking. Let your imagination run wild: what else could those shaded areas be? (Click each image to view it full-sized.)View fullsizeAtlanta, GAView fullsizeAustin, TXView fullsizeMiami, FLView fullsizeGreenville, SC

Scratch a bit at nearly any objection to infill development, and you hit the issue of making room for cars. Development opponents at public meetings often claim that their cities are full; that they are overcrowded, even. Yet no city in North America is even close to overcrowded with humans. (Very few cities on the planet are.) By and large, we don’t spend our days in cramped spaces, jostling for room on the sidewalk or a bit of free grass to lounge on in the park.

Many cities in North America are arguably overcrowded with cars. And so, as Donald Shoup observes, parking becomes the reason many of our fellow citizens will fight the growth of their neighborhoods tooth and nail:“Cities are limiting the density of people to limit the density of cars. Free parking has become the arbiter of urban form, and cars have replaced humans as zoning’s real density concern.”

There’s an old joke that if aliens landed in North America, they’d think that cars were the dominant life form on Earth—a metallic exoskeleton housing a squishy little brain inside. I’m not so sure it’s a joke.

Back to Sanity

As long as we have cars, we will need to park them. But our perceived need for parking has been vastly inflated, for several reasons. Separation of different land uses from each other means that few trips can be made within walking distance, and so we now need a separate parking space everywhere we go: home, the office, the gym, the grocery store, a place of worship, etc. In a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood, it’s much easier to park the car once and then make multiple stops on foot—no longer necessitating that each business have a parking space for every potential customer. Parking minimums, as we’ve discussed before, are also geared toward maximum demand—like on the peak shopping day of Black Friday—and they tend to be overestimates even for those occasions. Every city should do away with mandatory parking minimums and let the market figure out how much parking we really need.

Want to help your neighbors see all that parking in your city in a new light? Start by grabbing your camera on Black Friday and shooting some photos of empty or largely-empty retail parking lots, and then posting them to social media with hashtag #BlackFridayParking.Learn more about #BlackFridayParking

Daniel Herriges serves as Senior Editor for Strong Towns, and has been a regular contributor since 2015. He is also a founding member of the organization. Daniel has a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Minnesota, with a concentration in Housing and Community Development. He grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, before moving west to the San Francisco Bay Area, and later east to Sarasota, Florida, where he lives with his wife, daughter, and too many pets. Daniel’s obsession with maps began before he could read; a general fascination with cities and how they work was soon to follow. He can often be found exploring out-of-the-way neighborhoods (of his own town or another) on foot or bicycle. Daniel’s lifelong environmentalism can also be traced all the way back to age 4, when he yelled at his parents for stepping on weeds growing in sidewalk cracks.

** RIHA Releases New Report: Quantified Parking – Comprehensive Parking Inventories for Five Major U.S. Cities, Jul 9, 2018 Ali (202) 557- 2727

WASHINGTON D.C. (July 9, 2018) – The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Research Institute for Housing America (RIHA) today released a new report, Quantified Parking: Comprehensive Parking Inventories for Five Major U.S. Cities, authored by Eric Scharnhorst, Principal Data Scientist at Parkingmill.  The report reveals an investment in parking that is out of balance with the current demand for parking in almost all cases, and even less in tune with what appears to be declining future demand.

“The foundations of the real estate finance industry are, both literally and figuratively, built on the use of a finite amount of space,” said Mike FratantoniTrust Administrator for RIHA and MBA’s Chief Economist. “This report gives us a window into land-use trends that are sure to intensify in the coming decades.”

“Today’s empty parking spaces can be seen as a land bank in some of the most convenient city locations, or, taken another way, a future is arriving where builders will be able to provide more of everything else and fewer parking spaces,” said Scharnhorst. “One surprising element we discovered during the inventory, especially illustrated by Seattle, is that as land increases in price and surface parking begins to dissolve, the amount of parking in an area may paradoxically increase as parking spaces take shelter in new buildings.”

New York, NY, Philadelphia, PA, Seattle, WA, Des Moines, IA, and Jackson, WY are the five cities inventoried. You can download the full paper here.

MBA’s Research Institute for Housing America (RIHA) is a 501(c)(3) trust fund. RIHA’s chief purpose is to encourage and assist–through grants to distinguished scholars and subject matter experts, educational institutions, research facilities and government organizations–establishment of a broader based knowledge of mortgage banking and real estate finance.  You can find additional studies on RIHA’s website:


** Here’s how much space U.S. cities waste on parking: In cities that are struggling to find space to build affordable housing, a simple solution might be found in the vast areas set aside for storing cars. In Seattle, there are around 1.6 million parking spaces–more than five for every household in the city. Des Moines, a much smaller city, also has roughly 1.6 million parking spaces, or 19.4 per household. The small town of Jackson, Wyoming, has 27.1 parking spots per household. 07-17-18, Fast Company WORLD CHANGING IDEAS,

new report calculates, for the first time, exactly how many parking spots are in five cities–New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Des Moines, and Jackson–and gives a sense of how much money and land is being wasted on car storage. It’s data that cities don’t have now, because it’s hard to gather a comprehensive list of spots–not only the ones on streets but in garages and on private land. The report analyzes satellite data to identify some parking spots, pulls on-street parking statistics from city records, and finds other off-street parking in parcel data. The basic finding: Cities have far more parking spaces than they need.

Philadelphia satellite imagery [Image: Eric Scharnhorst/Parkingmill]

Only in New York City, where there are around 1.9 million parking spaces for the five boroughs, are there more homes than parking spots. Philadelphia has more than 2 million spots, or 3.7 per household.

If some drivers still have the perception that there isn’t enough parking, that’s likely because parking is underpriced or free, says Eric Scharnhorst, a principal data scientist at the startup Parkingmill, who wrote the report for the Research Institute for Housing America, an arm of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Philadelphia [Image: Eric Scharnhorst/Parkingmill]

“A lot of times, I’m guilty of this too: If I’m looking for a parking space and I know the on-street stuff is provided for free, or it’s less expensive per hour to park on the street than on the adjacent lot or garage, I’ll circle the street to try to get a deal, even though I know there’s an open spot in the garage or in the parking lot,” he says. “That also influences traffic–there’s more than one person circling the block looking for a deal.”

Parking garages are typically underused–one garage in downtown Des Moines was 92% empty in the middle of the day–but cities spend millions to build the structures. The report estimates that among the five cities analyzed here, parking was worth roughly $81 billion. In Jackson, Wyoming, the estimated cost of parking for each household was $192,138.

City planners are beginning to recognize the problem. “I think there’s a lot of inertia in the system, in the personnel who write the rules for cities, but I’ve seen that starting to change,” says Scharnhorst. “The generation [of planners] coming up is aware of this. A lot of them want to live close to work so that they don’t even have to park anywhere, they can just get there another way.”

Hartford, Connecticut, has completely eliminated parking minimums, the rules that say any developers need to include a certain amount of parking with any new building. Minneapolis, Nashville, Kansas City, and dozens of others have eliminated parking minimums in at least one neighborhood. In Seattle, the city council passed a bill in April that reduces parking requirements for developers to build affordable housing and “unbundles” parking from leases in new developments so renters and buyers don’t have to pay for spaces that they don’t actually use. “Decoupling the cost is a really clean, market-driven, enlightened way to reduce the cost of all housing,” says Scharnhorst.

Americans have been driving less over the last decadeespecially in cities, and as ride-hailing increases–and eventually self-driving cars–even fewer people will own cars. The vast urban area now devoted to car storage could be put to higher use. In Seattle, which is in dire need of new affordable housing, 40% of the land area is currently used for parking.

“It’s no secret in the development world that parking lots are just land banks just waiting to be turned into something else,” Scharnhorst says.

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world’s largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book “Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century.”  More

** Cars take up way too much space in cities. New technology could change that. By: Brad Plumer,

Javier Zarracina/Vox

When we talk about the problems associated with cars and transportation, we often focus on fatal accidents, or air pollution, or traffic jams. We less frequently consider how much sheer space cars take up in America’s cities. But let’s pause to give this some thought.

There’s the space the cars themselves occupy. The average car, two hulking tons of steel, is 80 percent empty when it’s being driven by a single person. And most of the day, cars are totally empty, sitting unused. That, of course, requires space for parking: There are a billion parking spots across the United States, four for every car in existence. Plus, there are all the paved roads crisscrossing our cities. Add it up, and many downtowns devote 50 to 60 percent of their scarce real estate to vehicles:

It all seems rather inefficient and wasteful. If cities could reclaim even a fraction of this land from vehicles, they could build more housing, or stores, or parks, or plazas. For cities struggling with housing shortages and soaring rents, such as San Francisco and New York City, the gains would be staggering.

Some cities are already tinkering around the margins here — looking, for instance, to cut down on excessive parking requirements or boost mass transit and free up land for development. But new technology could push this even further. Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft already hint at a world in which cars are utilized more efficiently and take up less room in aggregate. And if self-driving vehicles become widespread, cities could in theory shrink their transportation footprint even more dramatically.

This world no longer seems so far away. recent report from the Rocky Mountain Institute argued that the era of private car ownership may peak within a decade, as new networks of shared, electric, possibly autonomous vehicles become cheaper. Instead of buying a car, you can simply buy a ride whenever you need one. That shift has the potential, at least, to revolutionize our streets.

The trick is figuring out how to redesign cities accordingly. Recently, San Francisco sketched out a forward-looking plan to take advantage of these new transportation options and shrink the amount of space devoted to cars. With smaller streets and fewer parking spots, the city would have more land to work with — to build more affordable housing, say. If it works, it could be the start of an important new trend.


Peak Car Ownership Report

2016  |  By Charlie Johnson and Jonathan Walker, RMI (now Lyft) DOWNLOAD THE REPORT BELOW Shares

The market opportunity of electric automated mobility services.


Personal vehicles have dominated the U.S. mobility system for nearly 100 years. But we are now in the formative stages of a powerful confluence of cultural, technological, and societal forces. It is possible that a new mobility system will emerge in the next few years that is superior to our existing system in almost every way. This report offers guidance on what to expect so that stakeholders can prepare today, and provides potential market sizes and plausible rates of mobility service proliferation that could occur under reasonable circumstances.


Governments in the U.S. and the United Kingdom are about to spend billions of their respective currencies on electric vehicle subsidies and infrastructure. This is good news and a big step in the right direction, but is it the best strategy, and can it happen fast enough? Associate Professor Christian Brand of Oxford’s Transport, Energy & Environment, Transport Studies Unit, doesn’t think so.

Brand is known to Treehugger for his recent study covered in “Riding a Bike Has One-Tenth the Impact of an Electric Car,” in which he noted it takes a lot of metal and lithium with a lot of embodied carbon to make EVs, giving them a lifecycle carbon footprint of about half that of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), which is not enough of a reduction to get us to zero by 2050. It is an argument that I have made before, and critics have pushed back by noting that if someone is gonna buy a pickup anyway, half is pretty good.

But Brand thinks it’s not good enough for a number of reasons. Writing in an Oxford newsletter, Brand says the changeover to EVs is going to take way too long to make a difference in the current carbon crisis and that focusing on EVs is actually going to slow down the race to zero emissions. “Even if all new cars were fully electric, it would still take 15-20 years to replace the world’s fossil fuel car fleet,” wrote Brand.

And all new cars are most certainly not electric; In the U.S., only 331,000 were sold in 2019, compared to 900,000 ICE-powered Ford F-150s. According to the Boston Consulting Group, it will be 2030 before EVs outsell ICE-powered vehicles. Instead, Brand suggests that we have to make it easier for people to find alternatives to cars. He wrote:

“Transport is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonise because of its  heavy fossil fuel use and reliance on  carbon-intensive infrastructure – such as roads, airports, and the vehicles themselves – and the way it embeds  car-dependent lifestyles. One way to reduce transport emissions relatively quickly, and potentially  globally, is to swap cars for cycling, e-biking, and walking – active travel, as it is called.”

Of those active modes, Brand sees e-bikes as being transformational because they go farther, they make it easier for older people and those with disabilities to keep active and keep out of cars. He notes that “in the Netherlands and Belgium, electric bikes have become popular for long-distance commutes of up to 30 km. They could be the answer to our commuting problems.”

share of vehicle trips
US Department of Energy

That’s a bit extreme, and not even necessary, since according to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly 60% of all car trips are less than six miles. That’s an easy bike ride and an easier e-bike trip. And you don’t have to be doctrinaire and sell the car yet, just change some of the trips. According to Brand, “We also found the average person who shifted from car to bike for just one day a week cut their carbon footprint by 3.2kg of CO2.”

riding cargo bike
Delivering Christmas cookies and soup to neighbors on the RadWagon e-bike.K Martinko

Brand also notes the big focus is always on commuters when there is a lot of other driving being done. He even links to Treehugger senior writer Katherine Martinko’s post on this subject:

“While public policy tends to focus on commuting, trips for other purposes such as shopping or social visits are also often done by car. These trips are often shorter, increasing the potential for a shift toward walking, cycling or e-biking. E-cargo bikes can carry heavy shopping and/or children and can be the key ingredient needed to make the shift to  ditching the family car.”

Brand calls for more safe cycling infrastructure, including separated bike lanes, and for serious investment in cycling.

“So the race is on. Active travel can contribute to tackling the climate emergency earlier than electric vehicles, while also providing affordable, reliable, clean, healthy and congestion-busting transportation.” 

This is happening already, and not just among the young and fit.

Brand linked to a post by the young and fit Martinko, but it’s a common complaint that “not everyone can ride a bike” and “you can’t do your shopping on a bike.” While this post was being written, a man in London was busy on Twitter dismissing the possibilities of using bikes instead of cars.

Poor Mr. Jones got seriously ratioed for this by a bunch of bike and e-bike riders between 50 and 70, including me and others who pointed out that “This is ageist and completely inaccurate, btw.” Or “What was your point? I thought it was “people don’t bike because they can’t carry stuff, especially if they’re oooold”…which has now been thoroughly disproved in the replies.”

One even noted that you can carry an entire campsite.

It is hard in North America to convince people that it is safe for everyone to ride a bike everywhere because it’s not. Seventy-four percent of Americans live in suburbs that were designed around cars, and car-centric planning is still the rule.

Even in a city like New York, with a higher percentage of people riding bikes and taking transit than anywhere else in North America, cars still rule. But the wonderful thing about e-bikes is that they work in suburbs where things are twice as far apart because you can comfortably travel twice as far. That’s why Christian Brand is right; we have to move fast and change the focus from electric cars to getting people out of cars. Putting everyone in an EV is a lovely idea but we don’t have time.


You’d Never Guess This NYC Townhouse Is a Passivhaus

When Baxt Ingui does a renovation, you never can tell.

By Lloyd AlterPublished July 21, 2021 01:39PM EDTFact checked by Haley Mast

Interior of Passivhaus
Peter Peirce
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The thing about these renovations of New York townhouses by Baxt Ingui Architects is that they don’t look like what people expect Passivhaus renovations to look like. Many people think there will be teensy windows that don’t open, and instead, they are full of light, air, and openness.

Michael Ingui tells Treehugger that sometimes he doesn’t even tell clients they are getting the Passivhaus EnerPHit renovation standard; they are not the type to care about the cost of heating or cooling. He does tell them the house will be incredibly quiet and comfortable thanks to the careful sealing, thick insulation, and triple-glazed windows. Clients like the fact that there is a constant supply of filtered fresh air, particularly when forest fires are affecting air quality even in New York City. And then there is a big benefit for a townhouse in the city: When you seal a party wall so tightly that the air can’t get through, neither can the bugs.

Exterior of Townhouse
Peter Peirce

The Carroll Gardens Passive Townhouse is a good example of how architects can deliver all the benefits of Passivhaus in an old New York townhouse. According to the architects:

“The house, originally built in the late 1800s, had an intact brownstone façade and wood cornice, while much of the historical interior character had been modified or damaged, including a sagging floor structure and missing architectural details. The team, including Michael Ingui and Maggie Hummel of Baxt Ingui Architects, Cramer Silkworth of Baukraft Engineering, and Max Michel of M2 Contractors, worked collaboratively to create a house that blended the historic proportions of the townhouse with a number of modern, sculptural elements.”

View to rear
Peter Peirce

The “electrify everything” and the heat pump crowds will like this house; it’s got a heat pump water heater, clothes dryer, and HVAC. Heat pumps are easy in a Passivhaus because the loads are so small. The architects explain:

“Through Passive House detailing and insulation, the house requires almost no heat, regardless of how cold it is during the Northeast winters. We were able to eliminate the radiators and replace them with a system that uses minimal ductwork.”

Interior of house looking back to dining
Peter Peirce

Notably, the house also has an induction cooktop. Some Baxt Ingui clients insist on giant commercial-style gas ranges, but Ingui tells Treehugger they are making headway convincing clients that induction ranges are fine.

Looking up to ceiling
Looking up through two-story space.Peter Peirce

The Carroll Gardens Passive House puts paid to the idea that Passivhaus designs can’t have lots of natural light. I used to say “the best window isn’t as good as a lousy wall” but that’s no longer true when you are talking about these high-performance Passivhaus windows from Zola, which have R values of up to R-11. The result: lots of natural light.

 “Since space is so highly valued in a narrow townhouse, the team paid close attention to the floor openings that were created at the rear parlor and the stairwell in the center of the hall. It was important that these openings allow light into the middle of the home and create a continuously open and airy experience as you ascend through each floor. A mix of natural wood elements helped to create an environment that is both modern and warm.”

second level sitting area
Peter Peirce

The Carroll Gardens Passive Townhouse, and much of the work of Baxt Ingui, provide a great demonstration of why the Passivhaus approach makes so much sense in these times. While this is a 4,058-square-foot luxury renovation, the principles are universal. Instead of being net-zero, it needs almost no heating or cooling at all. It doesn’t get fist pumps for heat pumps, because the heat pumps it has make a trivial contribution compared to the real work being done by the fabric of the house itself.

rear of house from exterior
Peter Peirce

And don’t forget the contribution of the urban form and building type; on a narrow townhouse, the biggest surfaces, the sidewalls, are shared, significantly reducing heat loss. And it’s dense enough that you don’t have to drive to get a quart of milk.

It’s why I keep coming back to Passivhaus—because the first thing we have to do is reduce demand for energy, which makes it so much easier to get to zero carbon emissions. Everything else is just a distraction.