If you’re building a new home, shouldn’t there be something new about it? A smart new Connecticut home is demonstrating just how healthy, comfortable, durable, secure and exceptionally energy efficient a house can be. It is the first home certified in the state to be designed and built to the international Passive House standard, a method becoming well known for producing dramatic results. The Avon design/build firm Wolfworks Inc. has embraced this twenty first century approach to home construction and is leading the way with this Harwinton home.
Based on principles originating in the US in the seventies and perfected in Germany in the nineties, the Passive House method has returned to offer a systematic and integrated way to design and construct buildings that are real energy misers.
“It’s actually pretty simple,” said Jamie Wolf of Wolfworks. “Like a good business or investment model, by maximizing gains and minimizing losses we get desirable results. The genius of the system is to slow energy loss to a trickle and then capture the “free” energy from the sun and the people and equipment in the home. When we’re done, we’ll only need the equivalent of a couple blow dryers to make the balance work. With efficient lighting and appliances it’s an easy step to add solar electricity to produce as much energy as we consume, making this a net zero energy home.”
While the Passive House movement is growing in the US, tens of thousands have been built over the past two decades in Europe, establishing an impressive and dependable performance record. With buildings representing a third of all energy use, international governments are establishing the Passive House standard as a key element of their policies to reduce energy use for the long term. “Like them, I want my work to be contributing to the solution, not adding to the problem, “ said Wolf.
Achieving actual Passive House certification requires a third party Passive House certifier to evaluate and approve the design and the energy model to ensure three criteria are met: one for the energy used to provide comfort, one for the total energy the home uses, and one for air leakage. They are rigorous standards overseen by the International Passive House Institute.
The secret to how the Harwinton home made the cut is in the application of these critical design principles:
- Super Insulation: insulation tuned to the local climate level to assure a stable, draft-free interior
- Thermal Bridge Free Construction: detailing that assures energy isn’t transferred through building materials
- Air-Tight Construction: rigorous attention to sealing all potential air leakage sources
- Net-Gain High Performance Windows: triple glazed, tilt-turn windows tuned to gain more energy than they lose
- Balanced Ventilation: system recovers heat from steady balanced air flow, “the house literally breathes”
- Lighting and Plug Loads: LED and CFL light sources in nearly all fixtures and the best Energy Star appliances
Jamie Wolf has a prominent track record as a designer. His years in the industry made him astute enough to realize success requires evolution.
“As it became apparent that the way we built for the twentieth century would not be appropriate for this century, I set out to understand just what would need to be different. That was the challenge,” said Wolf.
What emerged from his effort to identify the most appropriate home for modern life was an understanding that we could build homes that use a fraction of the energy of any house on any block. He was happy to discover that homes built this way are also distinctly more comfortable, healthy, durable, and secure. He calls these homes “future friendly.”
When it comes to cost up front investments in careful design, better windows and more insulation pay off pretty quickly. Generally, construction of a Passive House is about 5% more than typical construction. However, the savings start immediately. Based on analysis done by a third party Home Energy Rater, the Harwinton house is predicted to actually produce income of $380 year, with a predicted annual savings of $5,652 over a code built home. The Net Present Value of the energy savings (with inflation) over 30 years discounted at the after-tax mortgage interest cost is estimated to be $199,087.
Wolfworks classifies a Passive House as a high performance, low load home. Regardless of meeting the absolute criteria and going thru the certification process, these homes offer a desirable and different living experience than what is available in a conventional home.
“As people reconsider what is important to them and the impact their choices have on our environment and our economy, they are recognizing that the features of a ‘future friendly home’ reflect a positive response to these challenges,” adds Wolf.
Wolfworks is based in Avon, CT. To learn more, call 860.676.9238 or visit www.homesthatfit.com.