Back in 2010, when Joe & I were brand-newlyweds, he stumbled upon this NY Times article about a crazy German home style that required no heating. In fact, the home could be heated just by warming your tea water in a kettle on the stove. Here’s a video from the article about the process, and the state of the Passivhaus here in the U.S:
I love what’s said at 1:30:
They said, “What’s the point? Why would you do something different? Because everybody else has six-inch studs. Seems to be fine for everyone else… I said, “It just doesn’t compare.”
Do the homes cost more? Yes. Up to 15-20% over the average home.
Do you make that money back? In spades. The video says that at current energy prices, the Landau family will recoup the additional expenses in 10 years.
The Passivhaus (whose principles are explained in a brief but not thrilling video here) is still an unknown concept in many parts of the States, but why? Because it’s different? Because contractors don’t have an incentive (either governmental or demand-driven) to provide the resources? Because, as Mr. Landau believes, we’re not forward thinking enough? I wanted to get a better handle on the system, one that Joe & I hope to employ if we ever find ourselves building a home. To do that, I thought I’d look at the most common complaints I could find about passive houses.
Complaint 1: There’s no air flow. It’ll get stuffy.
Not true. Here’s a quick overview of the ventilation system. (No worries, this video has subtitles, in case you can’t speak British Accent.)
Complaint 2: It’s a fad–nonessential bells & whistles that won’t last.
Super Not True. As this great video explains, the Passivhaus is rather anti bells & whistles. I love this video. It shows the system they use to test air tightness. It discusses the traditional construction means used, showing that its practices are already a part of our construction & carpentry traditions. It has a positive ending: Can’t build a passive house? Okay! You can apply some of the principles to your next project.
Complaint 3 (and the complaint I initially had): There’s only one design!
As the NY Times video & the previous video from the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) illustrate, there is flexibility in the type of passive home you can build. My favorite so far is the one on PHUIS’s “What’s a Passive House?” page. Just a quick Google image search shows seemingly endless elegant, modern designs build to Passivhaus standards.
PHUIS’s site states that “[o]ver the last 10 years more than 15,000 buildings in Europe–from single and multifamily residences, to schools, factories and office buildings–have been designed and built or remodeled to the passive house standard.” Is America ready to be the next Passivhaus frontier? Is the recouping of additional building expenses tempting enough in the American market? Here’s an article from back in 2009 addressing what’s stopping it’s growth so far, but I think we’re gaining ground on several of these.