Passive Home Design

Passive Home Design

Landis Carey
Sep 28, 2010

The key elements of a passive house.

Sunday's New York Times Business section documented one Boston family's adventure of building a passive home in rural Maine. "A so-called passive so purposefully designed and built—from its orientation toward the sun and superthick insulation to its algorithmic design and virtually unbroken envelope—that it requires minimal heating, even in chilly New England," explains The New York Times. The house required so few heating elements—in fact, this Maine home can stay warm throughout the winter without a furnace—that the homeowners were denied insurance coverage by several carriers suspicious of the new home's quality.

Having never heard the term Passivhaus, I read on: "While some 25,000 certified passive structures—from schools and commercial buildings to homes and apartment houses—have already been built in Europe, there are just 13 in the United States, with a few dozen more in the pipeline."

As this new practice expands in the US, there are several challenges consumers face: an estimated 10% cost premium to build to passive home standards, as compared with 5% in Europe; there are only 160 passive home-certified architects, engineers, and builders in the US; the US supply chain for passive house products—windows and other building materials that are designed to more rigorous standards—is undeveloped, leaving consumers with the option of purchasing less-efficient materials.

Explaining how passive home design compares, The New York Times says "Energy Star and LEED aim for efficiency improvements of at least 15% over conventional construction—both programs can earn a variety of tax credits and other incentives. The passive-home standard, perhaps because it's unfamiliar to many officials who create efficiency stimulus programs, is eligible for few direct government subsidies, despite the fact that homes using it can be up to 80 percent more energy-efficient, over all, than standard new houses and consume just 10 percent of the heating and cooling energy."

This building standard seems so logical for new home construction—it's future-focused, produces quality dwellings, and is conservative. As Katrin Klingenberg, the director of the Passive House Institute US, explains, "We have to stop using halfway measures. Each new building that we don't go all the way with now is putting us in a deeper hole." I can't say I disagree with her—she makes a perfect point.

Read the full New York Times article Can We Build in a Brighter Shade of Green? and view the related video interview.

Additional information: Habitat for Humanity Plans Passive House in Vermont; Passive House Institute US

(Image: 100K House)

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