Hudson Valley-based builder and renovator Jeff Eckes thought he was close to retiring, but then he discovered Passive House. Last year, after almost 40 years in the construction industry as a carpentry contractor and consultant specializing in high-end millwork, Eckes had settled into a semi-retired life as a millwork cost estimator and consultant for a firm in Washington, DC. Then the pandemic hit, and the company he was working with closed.
It was a chance encounter with a friend and architect that Eckes had previously worked with that sent him in an entirely new direction. The architect, who was studying for certification as a Certified Passive House Designer, sent Eckes a few online resources about Passive House. “I dove into it headfirst and didn’t come up for air for a week,” he says.
Within just a few months, Eckes had repurposed his construction company, LDR Group, and completed coursework to become a Certified Passive House Tradesman (CPHT) with the Passive House Institute. The same architect, now a Certified Passive House Designer, is the principal architect for the firm.
Already, LDR Group is collaborating with well-regarded Passive House experts in the Hudson Valley, including Daniel Levy, a Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC) and Certified Passive House Builder (CPHB). Levy’s Woodstock Passive House, completed in 2016, differs from most Passive Houses in the US because it was built with an advanced precast, lightweight masonry product called autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC). Together, Eckes and Levy are planning on developing a certified Passive House community in the Hudson Valley.
“We want to build something that makes a difference to the quality of life,” Eckes says of his firm. While LDR Group will be focused on Passive House-certified renovations and new home builds, Eckes feels strongly about not restricting its work to certified projects.
No matter how large or small the budget, LDR Group will bring the same building science-based performance to all of its renovation projects. With every project, Eckes is committed to using technologies such as high-performance insulation, advanced intelligent membranes, and triple-pane windows and doors.
“The goal is Passive House Certification, but that can’t always be achieved in a renovation,” Eckes says. “Using the best building science available could represent a 50-percent reduction in energy use, versus the 70 percent from a certified project, and it will provide more comfort to the occupants over the lifespan of the renovation. Why would anyone commit to 50 years or more of a substandard future for their home, or the people who live there, when we have the knowledge and materials to do better right now?”
Eckes’s passion for going the extra mile in pursuit of sustainability and resiliency is unusual for a small builder re-entering the space. “There is a steep learning curve and added operating costs associated with Passive House,” he says. “Our practice is focused on perfecting the craft of Passive House building science. Whether we are building a new house or retrofitting a home, we always want to take it to the next level and build like all of our lives depend on it. We are convinced that widespread adoption of these principles can and will bring the cost of materials down, improving the techniques required for Passive House building and making it accessible to more and more people.”