The First U.S. Passive House – Super-Efficient, Affordable

The Big Wall of Windows
The Big Wall of Windows

While the passive house concept is taking off in Europe, where over 10,000 passive houses have been built, there are still very few in the States. I have posted before about [intlink id=”393″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]Nabih Taleb’s passive house remodel[/intlink] in Berkeley, and I’ve heard about a few more which I’ll be posting soon. But this month the Taunton Press’s Green Building Advisor website is featuring an article on America’s first “passive house.”

Built by Katrin Klingenberg, a European-trained architect who is co-director of the Passive House Institute U.S., the house uses massive amounts of insulation – including 14″ inches below the slab, as well as up to 16″ in the walls. Klingenberg also took care to site the house for maximum solar gain in the winter, as well as many other details to increase the house’s energy efficiency.

The results have been excellent – although not without some learning opportunities. Those windows that allowed the sun’s heat to warm the house in the winter overheated it in summer. Klingenberg installed a grape arbor over the windows, and now its bare branches in winter let in the sun, and its leafs provide effective shading for the windows in summer, while also giving a beatiful view.

Klingenberg was not just after efficiency, but also affordability in this house. And the results on both sides were very good:

At $94 per square foot, the house topped the highest averages for new construction in the region, although not by much. With Katrin’s modest budget and her goal of using the home as a model for affordable housing, however, the cost was more than she would have liked. But she points out that this was a prototype that would likely cost less on a production scale. Besides, in her opinion, the successes in the area of sustainability, efficiency, and comfort were well worth the investment.

“Getting Green From The Stimulus” Presentation Materials Online

Chris Cheatham
Chris Cheatham

Chris Cheatham, a DC-based construction attorney and LEED AP, and author of the Green Building Law Update blog, has put his presentation “Getting Green From The Stimulus” online. He had two main goals in the presentation.

(1) Explain the green building provisions in the stimulus package.
(2) Convey how parties can prepare themselves now to take advantage of resulting green building opportunities.

For more on Chris’ insights into the stimulus package and its impact on green building, check out these two posts from the GBLU blog:

Chris is available to give this presentation for other companies. He can customize it for your state or region or industry.

Introducing New Silicon Valley Passive Homes Website

Silicon Valley From Space
Silicon Valley From Space

Over the weekend I put up what I hope will be an important resource in the goal of achieving 100% zero-net energy homes in California by 2018 – a new website for the Silicon Valley Passive House Coalition.

From the site:

SVPH is helping local municipalities to set challenging but practical goals for maximizing energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction in the local communities of the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California.

In particular, many communities are creating “climate action plans” which include incentives for the use of design options that promote energy efficiency and carbon savings. SVPH promotes including an incentive related to the use of extremely energy-efficient design and building approaches such as super insulation, zero-net energy, and the “Passive House” concept.

Please take a quick look and let me know via the comments what you think about the new baby (both the site and the organization)!

First Shot, or Swan Song?

Skyscraper
A commercial real estate development (image by MK Media Productions, CC 2.0 licensed)

The NAIOP, also known as the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, released a report last week “showing” that building green is not a winner in terms of payback. Apparently timed to coincide with a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on improving building energy code standards, the report found, according to a New York Times/ClimateWire article, that:

A 50 percent energy improvement beyond federal standards is technically impossible. A 30 percent target is achievable, but only by adding a million-dollar solar system that could take up to 100 years to pay for itself

In the same article, several energy efficiency experts raised questions:

Jeffrey Harris, a vice president at the pro-efficiency group Alliance to Save Energy, said these claims have a sturdy foundation in laboratories and in the real world. He pointed to the Energy Department’s data on high-performance buildings, as well as other databases containing information on existing buildings. Engineers and green-building leaders, he said, “are not breaking a huge amount of sweat in getting beyond 30 percent in code.”

Throughout the green building blogosphere numerous rebuttals started flying. On the news site for Costar, a commercial real estate information site, Andrew Burr wrote:

The study overlooked a number of highly cost-effective energy efficiency measures that are common in new buildings, such as light occupancy sensors and louvers that affect shading and heat gain, several people in the industry said, while integrated design strategies were not implemented in the models at all.

On the Yudelson blog, Jerry wrote:

In what is currently the world’s largest LEED Platinum building, the Center for Health and Healing in Portland, Oregon, engineers and architects were able to find savings measures that led to a 60% decrease in energy costs while spending 10% less overall money; this is not some computer-based study, it’s a realized project that was occupied in 2006.

Edward Mazria of Architecture 2030 was particiularly scathing:

In other words, NAIOP intentionally kept out of the analysis all the readily available low-cost, no-cost and cost-saving options to reduce a building’s energy consumption. This deliberate omission is glaringly apparent in their press release and in the NY Times article. In fact, they take so many inexpensive, energy-saving options off the table that it is impossible for the imaginary building to reach commonly achievable energy-consumption-reduction targets.

In one regard, you could say the NAIOP’s conclusions, when interpreted narrowly, are meaningful – if you build an energy hog building without considering the site, without performing integrated design, and using simplistic efficiency measures, you’re not going to get a good payback. What’s amazing about this, though, is that there are so many real-world counterexamples to the claims this report makes. It’s surprising NAIOP was willing to go public with it. And you have to ask “Why?” – in what way is this report in the long-term interest of NAIOP? Given the Federal, state and local juggernaut of energy efficiency regulations, isn’t it in their interest to figure out how to achieve on a mass scale what individual builders are achieving on a smaller scale? That’s the approach that keeps their constituents competitive, that creates jobs, and creates wealth.

Middle Class Task Force Meeting in Philly Focuses on Green Jobs

One of the Middle Class Task Force panels at the Philly meeting
One of the Middle Class Task Force panels at the Philly meeting

If you’re not reading the new whitehouse.gov blog, you’re missing out.

This liveblog about the “Middle Class Task Force” meeting in Philly last week from whitehouse.gov was great. Speakers included John Podesta, former Clinton staffer and now with the Center for American Progress; Van Jones from Green for All (based in the Bay Area), Fred Krupp from the Environmental Defense Fund, a bunch of cabinet and administration appointees, and representatives from labor like Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers of America.

Some highlights:

“when I see less carbon, I also see more jobs.” That’s from Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund, which has invested a lot of time and energy into the details of how to make green jobs a reality.

Mark Edlen of Portland, OR-based architecture firm Gerding-Edlen — in a lot of ways created an industry and market for green city living. He believes they can go further — zero impact buildings. Gerding-Edlin just completed a 400-thousand square foot building that is off the sewer grid, and in fact puts water back into the system.

One of the key partners in making green jobs a reality has been Labor, in particular the United Steelworkers of America. USW President Leo Gerard has been a visionary on this issue, and has been building coalitions with enviro groups for years — he’s a founder of the Apollo Alliance and the Blue Green Alliance.

Who knew (not me, anyway) that the United Steelworkers has had such a green past. Check out the PowerPoint Gerard used at the meeting — it’s impressive!

There’s a lot more at http://www.whitehouse.gov/strongmiddleclass/, including their new whitepaper.

I’ve really been enjoying the openness of the White House blog – I hope it keeps up. And I hope this task force is a harbinger of a big change in how we build homes and businesses in the U.S. – better services at a much lower energy footprint!

Passive House-like Renovation of an English Victorian Terrace House

Cohen house

On the Zerochampion blog, guest poster Robert Prewett from architecture firm Prewett Bizley writes about the ongoing renovation of a Victorian row house with “extreme sustainability” as the primary goal. The renovation is making use of many concepts from the “passive house” approach, including using the official passive house modeling software for validation:

A mechanical system with a high efficiency heat recovery unit will ensure that almost all of the energy contained within the air will be transferred into the fresh air being fed to each room. Together, these measures add up to an 80% reduction in energy required to heat the house. Initial calculations using the SAP software were encouraging and these have been lent further authority by modelling the house using the ‘Passivhaus’ software developed in Germany.

Although the reconstruction has just begun, they seem well on their way to demonstrating that passive house techniques apply even to this very old-fashioned type of extremely inefficient building.

Menlo Park Climate Action Plan Research

Menlo Park Train Station
Menlo Park Train Station

Just about two weeks ago, my friend Matt Harris, an architect with a green building practice, sent me an email:

The City of Menlo Park has this Climate Action plan and they are looking for community input. Would you be interested in formulating some kind of response that would of course include our plug for passive house initiatives. Maybe we can get them to include some passive home or even passive building information or plans or guidelines in the Climate action plan. They have already cited “commercial buildings” as a target energy hog in the city for action in the action plan.

So we’ve been working on this. We got together last weekend to come up with a strategy, then Matt wrote the first draft while I was in Finland last week. I did some editing this weekend, and now he’s got it again.

I wanted to share some of the information I discovered while researching our recommendations for the plan.

Here’s the first set – an annotated list of sites from which I got a lot of great information and inspiration both for this project as well as my high-level goal of having all homes built in California be zero-net energy by 2018.

Aggressive Home Efficiency

  • Architecture 2030 – The Architecture 2030 challenge includes the following goal for 2010: “All new buildings, developments and major renovations shall be designed to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 50% of the regional (or country) average for that building type.”
  • California Public Utility Commission Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan – The CPUC plan includes four “Big Bold strategies” strategies for significant energy-savings, two of which are: 1) all new residential construction in California will be zero net energy by 2020, and 2) all new commercial construction in California will be zero net energy by 2030.
  • Passive House Institute (Germany) – Already familiar to regular readers, the Passive House Institute, Darmstadt, Germany, a research institute dedicated to residential energy efficiency and systems, has shown that actual built structures can achieve 80-90% heating and cooling energy reduction based on their design guidelines. Over 9,000 “passive house” structures, including single family, multi-family, and apartment buildings, have been built in Europe that perform at or near energy goal
  • Passive House Institute (U.S.) () – The U.S. affiliate of the German Passive House Institute
  • Many green building standards have set zero (or near zero) net energy use for residential buildings as a progressive goal for structures and building codes in the near future, including the Leadership in Environmental and Energy-Efficient Design (LEED) standard’s residential rating system, Architecture 2030, and Build It Green’s GreenPoint Rated Checklist residential rating system / Green Building Guidelines for New Home Construction. Several California municipalities have adopted local building codes inspired by Architecture 2030 that exceed the 2005 California Building Energy Efficiency Standards:

I’ll keep you updated on our progress on getting these changes into the Menlo Park Climate Action Plan. It’s exciting to consider that Menlo Park could be on the forefront of the effort to get to zero net energy in ten years!