NYT: Can We Build A Brighter Shade of Green? · 1449 days ago

Sunday’s New York Times featured a Passive House in Vermont. Here is a link to the video.

To read the entire article click here.

We take issue with one statement: “It has been a good deal more expensive to build, however, than the average home.” This has not been true in our case – our Passive House in Bethesda is using readily available technology and products. We had each sub price out the differential cost for the Passive House components in their work— foundation work, heavier SIP panels, extra insulation, upgraded windows, mechanical systems, etc. We then compared the development costs of this house versus the cost had the same team built it as a standard good quality, well-insulated house. We found that the increased cost for this house is about 8%.

The real issue to look at with regard to cost is the true cost of ownership: monthly mortgage payment plus monthly utilities cost. I will be posting something soon comparing our house to a conventional house of the same size in those terms.

— David Peabody

Wall Street Journal Article · 1460 days ago

OK, so it’s not green, and it’s not about residential architecture, but my son’s Massey-Peabody Power Rankings was featured in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, and I’m a proud Dad. Congratulations Rufus!!

— David Peabody

Katrin Klingenberg visits Bethesda Passive House · 1462 days ago

Our Passive House in Bethesda is moving along, with the foundation work nearly complete.

On September 3rd, we had a surprise visit from Katrin Klingenberg, Director of the Passive House Institute U.S! Katrin was in DC doing a training course for Passive House consultants. Of all days Katrin could have come, this was the best. It was a first for all of us at taking a number of extra steps of sealing our footings and foundation, and having her go over our work and pronounce it first rate before the concrete went in gave us all a big boost.

You can follow the progress on our Passive House DC blog.

— Laura Campbell

Passive House Update · 1485 days ago

We’ve broken ground on our Passive House in Bethesda, Maryland – a new home which will save about 90% on heating and cooling costs compared to a standard house. We’ve also launched our Passive House blog where we’ll track the progress. Check in regularly to keep up-to-date on this exciting project!

— Laura Campbell

Passive House - Earth Day News · 1608 days ago

foursquare South Elevation

Today is Earth Day, and it seems an auspicious time to announce a groundbreaking event… in both senses of that word. On May 24 our first Passive House, and the first Passive House in the DC metro area will begin to take shape on North Chelsea Lane in Bethesda, Maryland. Twelve years ago our firm began the transition toward sustainable design. It has been quite an adventure, and with the construction of this home, we will finally have reached our goal.

We are calling the project The New American Foursquare. Our goal for this first house is to demonstrate that Passive House construction can be mainstream construction, both in terms of cost and design. On the cost side, the house will cost roughly $225 per square foot, exclusive of land costs – which places it squarely in middle range of high quality custom homes. With regard to design, our influence is the original American Foursquare, developed a hundred years ago by Sears Roebuck as the new house for a growing middle class. You have seen them up and down the Main Streets and Elm Streets of most every American town and city. They were designed to be economical to build and efficient with regard to space. These same principles make them well-suited for Passive House construction. The nearly perfect cubic volume is close to ideal in terms of surface-to-volume ratio, and its efficient layout allows for the short plumbing and ducting runs that are intrinsic to good Passive House design.

the team

We have put together quite a team to make this happen. O’Neill Development Corporation, a Gaithersburg-based firm with whom we have worked over the past 20 years, is both the developer and the general contractor. It is the vision of the O’Neills that is turning this dream into reality. One of the best builders in the area, with long-established reputation for value, fine construction and excellent design, they are the ideal partner to bring this highly collaborative project to life. Similarly, the key subcontractors on the project are leaders in each of their areas of building expertise: Panelwrights, the leading SIP provider in the mid-Atlantic region, will construct the entire building envelope and guarantee it to meet the stringent Passive House air infiltration standards. Foley Mechanical, voted 2009 National Residential HVAC Contractor of the Year by the Plumbing- Heating- Cooling Contractors Association, will handle all ventilation and hot water systems. Michael Lebeau, of Conservation Technologies, one of the leading Passive House mechanical system designers in the country, will consult in developing the design that Foley will implement.

the building envelope

While outwardly traditional, what makes this house unique is its exterior envelope. It will be essentially airtight—tighter by roughly a factor of ten than an EnergyStar home. Windows will be triple-glazed Canadian units with insulated frames. Walls and roof will be made of SIP construction, a system we have used on several projects already. Basement walls will be standard concrete, but detailed meticulously to eliminate thermal bridging. While most elements of this house will be of tried-and true systems, there is an important difference: they will linked together into a completely integrated whole-house approach, which is essential to affordable sustainable design. The key to the integrated design is the Passive House energy modeling software, but that is the subject for another blog post.

so where are the PV’s?

Unlike most houses wearing the green label, you won’t find a lot of solar panels on the roof of this house. This is because Passive House construction approaches the energy equation by reducing energy demand, not by using costly renewables to offset fossil fuel supply. We are, however, making the roof solar-ready for both photovoltaics and solar hot water, with conduits and piping pre-installed so that the future owners can take the house off the grid if they choose —something quite easy to do with a Passive House. After all, when you are using 10% of the energy used to heat and cool a standard house, it doesn’t take very many PV panels to achieve net-zero.

interiors and comfort

The interior of the house will be indistinguishable from a standard house. Kitchen and laundry appliances will all be EnergyStar rated. Bathrooms will have standard water saving plumbing fixtures. Interior products—from construction glues and paints to cabinets and countertops— will be non-polluting of interior air and sustainably manufactured, producing an interior environment both attractive and healthy.

While the house won’t look different from a traditional home, you will clearly feel a difference from the moment you walk inside this house. Passive Houses are exceptionally quiet and comfortable. There is no stratification of air; there are no drafts, there is no feeling being hot or cold when standing next to a window. Consistently in European surveys (where over 20,000 Passive Houses have now been certified), it is the comfort of these houses most remarked upon by their owners.

The story of the O’Neill’s visit to a recently completed Passive House in Illinois is instructive. Like any good builder, Brendan wasn’t about to embark on building a Passive House until he’d seen and touched one. So he and Brendan Jr. got on a plane in mid December to go out to Urbana, Illinois where two had been completed over the past several years. Unfortunately—or fortunately—they arrived in a full Midwest blizzard, with driving winds and temperatures in the low teens. It was stepping into those houses, and feeling how warm and comfortable they were that made him a believer. And it was when he peeked inside the mechanical room, and saw that the system was barely running at all that he said, “We’ve got to build these!”


Even more important than comfort, this will be a healthier house. Interior air quality of Passive Houses has been tested consistently to be healthier than in standard houses. The reason is simple: all the air you breathe is fresh and filtered. While normal houses recycle the same air around and around through the duct system, the Passive House ventilation system sends the air on a one-way trip through the house, so there is no build up of CO2 or other unhealthy gases.

heating and cooling

The one place inside the house where you might notice a difference from traditional homes will be when you visit the mechanical room; you won’t find a standard furnace or air conditioning unit. Because so little energy moves through the building envelope, a traditional heating and cooling system is unnecessary. Instead, you will find an energy recovery ventilator that brings in the fresh air distributes it through the house and exhausts it, transferring the heat or cold of the exhausted air to the fresh air coming in. The minimal heating requirements of the house in winter will be provided literally from the body heat of the occupants, the heat from the various electrical appliances, and supplemented by a small additional amount of heat taken from the hot water heater— equivalent to the energy of a hair dryer. In summer, several small mini-split heat pumps will handle cooling and dehumidification needs, using the equivalent energy of your car air conditioner.

The present house on the site, too small and in too rough a condition to renovate economically on such a valuable site, will be removed. Rather than hiring a demolition contractor, it will be dismantled in coordination with Diamond Waste Services and Second Chance. All wood, metals, glass, roofing, masonry and concrete will be recycled.

Dismantling is underway. Keep checking this blog for updates!

All inquiries are welcome. Our goal is to see these houses become the norm for truly sustainable homes. And did I say that this house will use 10% of the heating and cooling energy of a standard code built home?!

Inquiries from prospective buyers should be addressed to Brendan O’Neill, Jr. at O’Neill Development Corporation.

— David Peabody

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