A few years ago I started to see more information on Passive Houses in a number of architectural journals. The concept was simple, design a house that was very well insulated and sealed allowing very little infiltration that would reduce the demand for heating and cooling. That was the way I understood it. Perhaps I oversimplified it in my mind. Unlike LEED, which takes many other factors in consideration, Passive House was a much more simple recipe for a very efficient house. In this journal, I will attempt to tell you my experiences as I realize a long held dream of building my own Passive House to live in.
A little background: my wife, Jessica and I purchased a property in Greenport, on the North Fork of eastern Long Island, a couple of years ago with the purpose of building our dream house. Well, truth be told, it wasn’t really Jessica’s idea of a dream home. First of all, it is a flag shaped lot that has a shared driveway with the house in front. Second, the east view is to the Eastern Long Island hospital building. Lastly, it is next to a marina hotel. Sounds awful, right? That is the way she saw it.
I looked at the property and instantly fell in love with it. It is almost a half acre, on the water, with a dock that would be the ideal site for Wayne’s World, my 28′ sailboat. That would be enough of a reason for most people but there is more-The property is long, with southerly views to the harbor. it also receives a lot of sunlight. Because it is on the back of what was once a deep property there are no houses next to the property and the site is not in a floodplain.
My first-hand experience with Passive House was in Berlin in September 2012. My friend Omar Hernandez was kind enough to connect me with his architect friends Wolfgang Schoening and Beatrice Mosca. They designed and built a beautiful Passive House in Berlin and invited me to stay there. It wasn’t the eco houses that I remembered from the 70’s with small windows and stale air. It had very large openings, the air seemed very fresh and the interior design seemed unrestricted. There is no furnace except for a high tech fireplace that can also be used to heat hot water when the solar water panels on the roof are not able to produce what is needed. As you might imagine, the walls are extremely well insulated, and the windows are triple glazed. Window shades are on the outside of the building, keeping the sun’s heat from hitting the glass. Fresh air is constantly circulated using an air-to-air heat exchange(heat recovery ventilator or energy recovery exchanger ventilator), minimizing loss of conditioned air to the exterior. The particular mix of energy conserving strategies aren’t suitable to every climate, but they were perfectly suited to the site. I was completely impressed! The seed was planted.