Thursday, May 13, 2010

Energy Efficient Homes From The Ground Up To Get To Zero

Building a home From The Ground Up is a term associated with a Passivhause or Passive House type of construction whose certification standard is actually measured on the building's performance.  The goal is to get as close to zero energy use as possible. 

From the ground up, a Passivhaus is evaluated totally on its performance that must meet air tight standards for energy efficiency. Of course, you can add other sustainable components to the mix to arrive at a home that I would love to live in. I bet you would, too!

But what all of this means is that, you can build a home in such a way that you don’t need a HVAC system or not much of one. Add a few solar panels, and you have a net zero energy use. Not bad for making sure all the holes are filled.

To achieve this high performance in a house is remarkable and fascinating. Particularly when you consider that the typical new construction standard of today means you may be shoveling snow out of your attic. Not much of a standard there.

In a television reality show, I saw a couple having to do just that. Can you imagine? A new home and you are shoveling snow out of your attic? Hard to believe, isn’t it.

Passivhaus has been around for a couple of decades and is about 20,000 buildings strong in Europe. This building standard is catching on in the United States, and California stepped into the fold.

Here’s a cool video to watch on Passive House design model making:

This building standard is referred often called ‘from the ground up’ because every nook and cranny is considered so that there is no where for air or moisture, for that matter, to get in. Passivhaus has a rigid standard that the home must meet to be certified.

In the past, the square footage and size of a home was very relevant to meeting the air tightness performance test. Today, however, buildings such as schools, multifamily housing and university buildings being built to Passivhaus standards.

Passivhaus concentrates on total energy use including heating water and lighting. The true Passivhaus certification standard seems to be tough to meet for the United States even though the standard has been used in Austria and other places in Europe for over 20 years.

Because the United States has not, until recently, focused enough attention on carbon footprint and energy use, we seem to be behind the curve in developing the materials needed for this type of construction.

I am captivated by this construction standard, as I hope this article will inspire you to be. Many others have been hooked by Passihaus and manufacturers are beginning to notice. So, while the high performance products (windows, in particular) are beginning to hit the market, there are other concerns.

Other concerns like climate differences and retrofitting existing houses make it difficult for places like the United States and Canada to meet the certification standards of Passivhaus.

Those concerns are a good thing because it is becoming a conversation that will, I’m sure, develop into an even better solution. How can we meet zero energy use standards without spending a lot of money, accommodate varying climates and be able to retrofit houses that don’t all face the sun. Any ideas?

Interested in seeing what constructgion From The Ground Up looks like?  Click here to watch some videos.  At Eco Living Design, we pride ourselves on helping you raise your consumer I.Q. so you can arrive at your most brilliant solutions without pollution.

Photo Information:  The Stanton House in Urbana, Illinois, built in 2008, has 2,200 ft2 of floor space (as calculated in PHPP), R-64 walls, R-87 roof, R-51 sub-slab insulation, and triple-glazed windows rated at U-0.17 (0.96 W/m2K) as shown on

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