I recently sat down for coffee with a builder who has been constructing homes in one capacity or another for the better part of a decade in and around Spokane. Several years ago, after having witnessed traditional construction methods and observing them to be lacking in some respects he chose to begin practicing more sustainable, energy-efficient methods of building. After some time spent working with various non-traditional residential construction methods, he now sees Passive House as the future of American energy efficiency in home design and construction. After doing some very basic research of my own, I’ll admit that the concept appears to have some merit.
What Is Passive House?
In a nutshell Passive House is a system for designing, constructing and measuring the energy efficiency of homes. Some of the tables and graphs I saw were truly impressive. Scrutinizing every aspect of a home’s energy gain and usage: heat loss through walls, doors, and windows, gain from solar heat. No detail is left out or left unmeasured where energy is concerned.
The Passive House acts as a sealed envelope that is completely sealed off from the outside, the only way air gets in or out is through the conditioning and filtration system. This ensures that no heat is lost when it is cold outside and none is gained when it is hot. Home heating and cooling expenses can be almost nothing with this degree of insulation. With a good design, the heat that appliances put into the air along with your body heat can be enough to heat a house in some situations, or at least get close.
The downside of course is the cost. Passive Houses can cost up to %25 more than a more traditionally constructed home. However, the energy savings these homes can provide will typically pay for the difference within 9 to 10 years.
Continually increasing energy costs may soon make Passive House an even more practical option for today’s home buyers. Check out the PHA-US website and this NY Times article for some more info and great opinions on Passive House.
In March I will have the chance to tour a nearly completed Passive House in Elk, WA. I’ll be sure to write another post that includes photos and possibly some specifics on that particular build. Thanks For Reading!