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The Passive House
Green homes are popping up all over.
I just read a news report that references recent data released by McGraw-Hill Construction. "The pace of green building has risen to about 1/3 of all new homes and buildings within the United States. To underscore how remarkable that statistic is, it's important to note that just five years ago in 2005, only 1/50 of new construction was considered green."
Remarkable, don't you think? A good example of the trend is the Passive House that uses the same amount of energy needed to run a hair dryer. While Passive Houses have become very popular in Europe, they are still quite new in the U.S-only 13 to date with more on the boards. The homes, which are 90 percent more energy efficient than a traditional home, use high levels of insulation, efficient windows, airtight construction and heat recovery ventilation systems to ensure ultra low energy usage.
A recent article in The NY Times reported on a passive house under construction in New England. While acknowledging the tremendous energy savings, it recognizes the additional cost for a passive house, estimated in the U.S. to be between 10 and 15 percent. One reason: thick walls and abundant insulation.
"Walls in a typical American home might be about six inches thick and insulated with fiberglass batting. The walls of the [passive] home are nearly three times as thick-a citadel of insulation and tape-sealed construction intended to keep the cold at bay and to prevent costly heat from slithering out through cracks, holes and other imperfections common to conventional construction. And more than a foot of rigid foam insulation sits between the earth and the concrete slab forming the basement."
The O'Neill Passive House, located in Sonoma, is the first in California and the first retrofit using Passive House specifications in the U.S. Retrofitting means replacing an existing home's active heating and cooling systems with voluntary, ultra-low energy standards, even lower than the LEED standards. The contractor was Napa-based construction company Solar Knights Construction, Inc.
"There is really nothing passive about a passive house," states builder Rick Milburn. "These kinds of homes and buildings are the future of energy efficiency. Building and remodeling with the passive house near-zero standard is the most practical and ultimately cost-effective way for all of us to reduce our daily energy consumption and live in a more sustainable, conservation-minded way."
The O'Neill home, which was originally constructed in 1960, will be open for public tours October 23 and 24, 2010.