Monday, December 29, 2008

The Passive House

At the AASHE 2008 Conference, I met a rep from the Passive House Institute which was very encouraging to see - passive solar design is a key concept to green building and one that unfortunately too often gets overlooked or glossed over. The other day my father sent me this NYT article about passive homes in Germany that have no furnaces are kept warm with great insulation, solar gain, and body heat. Again, very exciting stuff – it helps to show one element of how through good design we can create a climate neutral, sustainable future – but still, it generated some confusion on my part as to why this one (very important) element of green building is being broken out as its own thing, seemingly separate. Maybe it’s because it has been glossed over too often in casual converstaions about green building, or maybe it's because it’s less complex, and more understandable to look at one piece at a time. Of course this one piece in and of itself is quite complex – it integrates he building envelop, insulation, windows, site orientation, ventilation system (with heat exchange), and room layout, and again is a big central part of green building generally. So maybe it’s just that the terminology “passive house” is a better description of “green building” – no confusion with exterior paint colors. Whatever the reason, it’s a great trend – and one we really need to develop here, quickly.

We had a blower door test done recently and found all of our leaks and under-insulated spots. There were a lot of them, and we’ve got a guy coming soon to fill in the parts of the roof with no insulation as an immediate first step. The next steps are to seal up all of the holes and gaps in the floor, get the walls insulated, update the windows, and hopefully put in some new windows on a Southwest wall. Before sealing up that tight though, we need to find a good solution to air quality and moisture – a ventilation system with a heat exchange that can work in our old house. It will be interesting to see how close we can get to a ‘super-insulated’ house that we can heat with the sun and some body heat. Starting from scratch it’s easier – I always think of the Rocky Mountain Institute headquarters that doesn’t need a heating system, and on cold overcast days, they throw tennis ball down the hall for the dog for auxiliary heat.

Stay going…

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