Passive Housing

Passive housing is all the rage for green builders and responsible homeowners these days, but what exactly is it? Essentially it is a standard for energy efficiency in the built environment that seeks to reduce the structures carbon footprint. Heating and cooling consumes great amounts of energy due to air escaping structures around doors, windows and even through walls. Gene Wixsom, of Green Builders Inc and a passive house consultant, sees passive housing as turning homes into a secured energy envelope that should reduce energy consumption as compared to a normal house. Infrared assessments can be used to find temperature leeks inside and outside of a building and based on the results contractors can determine what improvements need to be made.

There are many design parameters that can be used to keep temperature and air regulated within a structure and many examples of how to achieve these parameters:

  • Insulation Levels – superinsulation
  • Low Air Escape – careful sealing and air barriers
  • Solar and Landscape Impact – passive solar gain, vertical gardens and green roofs
  • Window Technology – Triple pained technologies
  • Ventilation – Cross ventilation, heat recovery ventilation
  • Lighting – Daylighting, solar panel systems

Generally the best way to sell home improvements is to report the return on investment, but passive house improvements are not so easy to quantify; therefore the health and wellness of residents and the environment must be pushed. Living in a properly built energy envelope will payback, but the amount and time it takes is uneasy to reach, so passive house advocates have promoted the health benefits of constantly taking in fresh over stale air and helping the environment as well.

A Green Hammer passive house restoration is almost finished in Portland, Oregon and the home owner couldn’t be happier or more involved with the process. Just a few examples of improvements that set the house apart from its neighbors:

  • Forest Stewardship Council Wood
  • Insulation under the home
  • Seismic retrofitting
  • 3,000 gallon cistern (tax credit)
  • Metal roofing
  • Green sealing tape
  • Cellulose Insulation (ground up newspaper)
  • Mini split heat pump
  • Heat recovery ventilator
  • Pocket doors

The senior homeowners of the new passive home are obviously long term thinkers. After their kids had all grown and moved on they decided they didn’t need so much room and that there was no sense in paying for utilities on a limited budget. The downstairs bathroom is also wheel chair accessible just in case stairs are no longer an option due to old age. How is it that so few people prepare for the long haul?

Passive CommericalHammer & Hand remodeling services, a small business of Portland, is currently pursuing many passive house remodels, but one that stands out is the first passive commercial building retrofit in the US. The Glasswood Passive House site was first built in 1912 and had been left vacant for quite a few years while the neighborhood around it slowly improved. The plans so far for the building is to have a passive house office on the second floor and a popular, high performance restaurant on the ground level. The lower level will not technically meet passive house criteria, but the air system in the building will provide much better air quality than a conventional building. Glasswood Passive House Walls

Aside from how beautiful these passive houses are and will be, they will serve as a perfect models for future housing design and construction. Perhaps this strategy would come in handy in a climate as hot and sunny as Texas…

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