House Building — Praise for Passive House design

Nov. 7—What makes a house feel like home? When it is quiet and peaceful? Full of natural light during the day and good-and-dark at night for sound sleep? With favorite art on the walls and books unpacked on their shelves? Some might say when it smells like fresh baked cookies (or enchiladas). For New Mexicans, we can feel home in a double adobe; an unmistakable solid, quiet, grounded feeling of a craft-made home.

As one of the co-founders of B.PUBLIC Prefab based in Santa Fe, I spend my work life talking to people about building differently with deeply insulated walls to achieve Passive House-like performance for new home construction. Because Passive House is still relatively young in the U.S. (12 years as compared to Germany’s 30), very few new home customers have ever experienced being in, let alone living in, a house built on such rigorous energy-efficiency principles.

The Passive House system is, admittedly, a rather technical and complicated design to understand. The main thing many people I talk to are interested in knowing is: How does it feel? Is a home that uses 80% less energy uncomfortable or seem like a sacrifice? I find myself using my hands, gesturing over Zoom and relying on metaphors to answer. For example, I will ask people if they remember the first time they experienced radiant floors in winter and how relaxing it was on their bodies. What a thing to have warm feet and relaxed shoulders! Passive homes are kind of like that, but with the additional gift of being so well-insulated and comfortable, from head to feet, that you always feel warmed like that, except without the heat on.

It is lovely to meet with clients in New Mexico because I can use the experience of adobe as a comparison to a Passive House in that Passives are incredibly quiet, have deep-set windows and provide an utterly relaxing sense of home within 17-inch-thick walls. New Mexicans also understand right away that things made with craft, care and natural materials feel like home and also last like a home should—for generations.

Outside of New Mexico, it gets ta little tricky. For those folks in California, for example, I sometimes compare Passive House to having things in common with a Tesla: they’re both electric and super quiet. Passive homes are designed to be electric-only, for indoor health and energy conservation. They are 50% quieter, compared to code construction, due to well-insulated envelopes, paired with high-performance windows.

Clearing up some confusionFor folks across the Southwest who confuse Passive House with Passive Solar, I use one of my favorite working metaphors: the stainless steel thermos. Passive homes are made to be inactive like an insulated thermos. Passive, in the sense that the interior stays hot by holding in the heat effortlessly, by design, rather than needing energy added to it to keep warm.

I understand why there may be confusion. It is difficult to truly share all of the amenities and attributes of the Passive system of construction on the page or computer screen. You must step inside a Passive Home to sense the fullness of its warmth and serenity. It’s a surround-sound of comfort.

More and more builders are proudly joining New Mexico’s long history of green building with some new ways to save the planet. In the process, they are still honoring what home should feel like for everyone.

About Passive House

Passive House buildings are healthy, comfortable, efficient and cost less to operate. Passive House design can create any architectural style and any building type, providing a predictable pathway to net zero energy and zero carbon building. Science-based design principles and tools optimize both building performance and cost.For more information: www.passivehouseaccelerator.com

EDIE DILLMAN

Edie Dillman is CEO and co-founder of B.PUBLIC Prefab—a component-based high-performance building company that prioritizes energy reduction, carbon-positive materials, housing creation and community collaboration. She and her family live in the first certified Passive House in Santa Fe. www.bpublicprefab.com.

Debbie A. Cunningham

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