First PHIUS Residence Hall in Massachusetts uses Precast Concrete Plank

Wheaton College's Pine Hall / Photo courtesy of Commodore Builders


Certified by the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS), Pine Hall was designed and built for top energy performance. That designation is attracting students to Wheaton College and the first passive house residence hall in Massachusetts.

Designed with a structural steel frame, precast concrete plank, and a brick facade, Pine Hall is both solid and resilient. The four-story structure is 47,500sf, with 178 beds, and includes a laundry room, a kitchen, a multi-purpose room and student lounges.

Oldcastle Infrastructure in Selkirk, N.Y. manufactured the precast concrete plank which bears on Girder Slab beams. Precast enabled longer spans while providing excellent resistance to fire and to floor vibrations.

To achieve this high level of performance, airtight construction methods were used including high-performing walls, roofing materials, triple glazed windows and high-efficiency heating, cooling and lighting systems.

According to Rob Blanchard, project executive with Commodore Builders, “Passive House has very rigid air infiltration requirements; it is as tight as a refrigerator with windows.”  He explains that, before any interior work, “we pressurized the building to determine if there were any air leakages, which is critical.”

The hollowcore helped limit air leakage between floors. “The two inch topping on the plank really sealed the floor to floor spaces,” describes Blanchard.  With the building so tight, we wanted to ensure the proper exchange of air in each zone.

The open cells were used for wiring for ceiling fixtures and Wi-Fi. Every room has its own wireless access point to meet the high demand. Precast hollowcore also contributed to improved sound attenuation which contributes to the comfort and livability.

Precast allowed for fast installation in order to open for the fall semester. “The entire four floors went in under 30 days. Air infiltration tests were conducted during construction and ultimately were below the target requirement for air leakage characteristics,” says Blanchard. “If you don’t hit the designated numbers you won’t be considered a Passive House.”

Despite the rigorous requirements, Blanchard estimates only a 3% premium over traditional construction. “I think we will definitely see more PHIUS construction in the Northeast. The quiet environment and consistent climate control is off the charts,” predicts Blanchard.

Wheaton College expects Pine Hall to be 70% more energy efficient than buildings that meet code. With those savings it should take ten years for them to recoup the small premium for the PHIUS design and construction.  Read the full project profile on PCI Northeast’s website at

The project team included architect, SGA of Boston; engineer, Thornton Tomasetti Group of Boston; and contractor, Commodore Builders of Waltham.

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