Environmental Bill of Rights Meets Historic Passive House Masonry Retrofit (Laura Blau & Paul Thompson)

Room 1 • 1:30 – 2:00 PM • Friday, Oct. 19


Historic buildings must be preserved while being adapted to respond to climate change. Unfortunately, contemporary insulation and HVAC practices are being applied without accepting building-science realities, resulting in unhealthy air quality and degraded building structures. Laura and Paul will explore the renovation of a circa 1845 4-unit multi-family rowhouse in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse-Fitler Historic District. Building science-based solutions safely achieve significant energy savings and maintain the building’s historic character.

The session will highlight two precedent-setting Historical Commission approvals that pave the way for renovations of historic buildings to meet carbon reduction goals. The first, approval of simulated double-hung Passive House certified windows, permitted this historic building to reach higher comfort, IAQ and energy efficiency objectives. The second, farther reaching approval, engaged the legal appeals process and invoked Pennsylvania’s Environmental Bill of Rights. This approval allows the team to cover the porous rear façade brick with an exterior insulation system, which provides long term protection, reduces mold and mildew risk and meets the EnerPHit Standard.

This presentation shows existing conditions and deterioration resulting from past construction practices, and the design process for good building science practices - water absorption tests, energy models and hygrothermal analysis - and describes design trade–offs and lessons learned. Laura and Paul advocate a shift from modest, evenly applied ‘improvements’ to a paradigm shifting, phased master-planned interventions that permit buildings to eventually meet the Architecture 2030 goals. By applying low-tech, science-based energy reduction techniques to all buildings, especially historic buildings, we can have a low-carbon future connected to a living historic legacy.


Laura is principal of BluPath, an award-winning woman-owned architecture and Passive House consulting firm. She is a founding member of the Greater Philadelphia Passive House Association, now Green Building United. Laura teaches in the Masters of Sustainable Design program at Jefferson University and presents seminars & articles for professional organizations at international and regional venues. In 2018, BluPath designed the first PHIUS certified Passive House in Philadelphia. BluPath’s awards include the 2006 Commonwealth Design Award for Sustainable Design, the 2007 IIDA Honorable Mention for Sustainability and the 2010 Green Builder award for Best Life Cycle Addition. Laura received her MArch 1995 from University of Pennsylvania. She co-authored a book about her grandfather, architect Frazier Forman Peters, for the Westport CT Historical Society.


Paul joined IEI Architects as a principal in 2013. IEI Group is an award-winning design firm, ranking in Interior Design Magazine’s top 200 national firms. IEI provides architecture, interior design and project management to corporate, education and government clients. Previously, Paul co-founded BluPath, an architecture and design firm focusing on sustainable design, with Laura Blau AIA. He worked for MGA Partners, A M Stern, William Kite and Lerner Ladd Architects. Paul has taught at Philadelphia University and Temple University and presents at regional, national and international conferences. He is a founding member of the Greater Philadelphia Passive House Association, now Green Building United. Paul has a BS in mechanical engineering and a MArch from University of Virginia. Paul and Laura are currently renovating a historic Philadelphia rowhome to meet the PHI EnerPHit (Passive House) standard.