Can We Build in a Brighter Shade of Green? [Sept 2010]

Can We Build in a Brighter Shade of Green? [Sept 2010]

“A so-called passive home like the one the Landaus are now building is so purposefully designed and built — from its orientation toward the sun and superthick insulation to its algorithmic design and virtually unbroken air envelope — that it requires minimal heating, even in chilly New England. Contrary to some naysayers’ concerns, the Landaus’ timber-frame home will be neither stuffy nor, at 2,000 square feet, oppressively small.

It has been a good deal more expensive to build, however, than the average home. That might partly explain why the passive-building standard is only now getting off the ground in the United States — despite years of data suggesting that America’s drafty building methods account for as much as 40 percent of its primary energy use, 70 percent of its electricity consumption and nearly 40 percent of its carbon-dioxide emissions.

Energy Star and LEED aim for efficiency improvements of at least 15 percent over conventional construction — and 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.

Add photovoltaic solar panels or other energy harvesting systems, and passive homes can quickly become zero-energy-use homes — or even power generators that can feed electricity back to the grid.”

For more about passive houses, including graphics, check out Passive House Alliance US. Since this article is almost 4 years old, I wanted to do some research to see if more people were building these homes in the United States. There were only 13 homes at the time of the article’s publication; now, according to Passive House Institute US, there are at least 116. In Hillsboro, Oregon, a suburb of Portland, a 150 unit project is currently under construction, and once completed, will be the largest passive structure in the United States.

Since passive building started in Europe, they are naturally way ahead of the United States on projects. According to this article, “some 25,000 certified passive structures — from schools and commercial buildings to homes and apartment houses — have already been built in Europe.” In Germany, there are plans to build a hospital.


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