Highly Efficient ‘Passive Homes’ Gain Ground In US


The goal: a house that creates nearly as much energy as it consumes. Think of being able to keep your house warm without a traditional big furnace, cool with no air conditioning unit.

“At this point there’s no reason why any developer can’t now build this way,” said Tim McDonald, whose firm has designed and built energy-efficient buildings with eco-friendly materials for more than a decade in
Philadelphia, and recently entered the world of passive housing.

Signature features often include thick outside walls and roofs, highly-insulated windows and frames, and a south-facing orientation. The ventilation system pulls in fresh outdoor air and pumps out stale indoor air, but not before it’s used to heat or cool the incoming air to the same temperature.

Houses built this way can stay comfortable using 90 percent less energy than traditional construction homes, according to the Passive House Institute US, an Illinois-based certification, research and consulting group.

Though the idea was born in the U.S., the roughly 20,000 internationally certified passive houses worldwide are in Europe – predominantly Germany, Austria and Scandinavia. Fewer than 100 exist in the U.S. – but that’s changing, from chilly New England to toasty Arizona to muggy Baton Rouge, said Katrin Klingenberg, Passive House Institute US co-founder and executive director.

“People associate the passive house movement with Europe, but it comes out of the (American) oil embargo and energy crisis in the 1970s,” she said. “Then political change happened, (energy) prices came down … but in Europe that didn’t happen, so they had reason to continue the research.”

The shift was symbolized most clearly, perhaps, at the White House, when solar panels installed in 1979 during President Jimmy Carter’s tenure were removed in 1986 under President Ronald Reagan’s administration. (Barack Obama’s administration promised in 2010 to put them back but hasn’t yet done so.)

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Posted by on Jul 1st, 2013 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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