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Passive Houses in America and Canada
Alex Steffen, 26 Sep 10

We've been covering passive houses and super energy efficiency in architecture for years, and I've noted with puzzlement the huge gap in green building standards between the U.S. and Canada (where LEED is often seen as the state of the art) and Europe (where the German Passivhaus standard, Bill Dunster's ZED buildings and other comparable innovations have begun to become widespread).

So it was refreshing to see that gap explored (with a nod to bright green thinking in the headline, to boot) in today's New York Times:

A so-called passive home like the one the Landaus are now building is so purposefully designed and built — from its orientation toward the sun and superthick insulation to its algorithmic design and virtually unbroken air envelope — that it requires minimal heating, even in chilly New England. Contrary to some naysayers’ concerns, the Landaus’ timber-frame home will be neither stuffy nor, at 2,000 square feet, oppressively small.

It has been a good deal more expensive to build, however, than the average home. That might partly explain why the passive-building standard is only now getting off the ground in the United States — despite years of data suggesting that America’s drafty building methods account for as much as 40 percent of its primary energy use, 70 percent of its electricity consumption and nearly 40 percent of its carbon-dioxide emissions.

The struggles the family profiled in the piece went through to get their home designed and permitted reflect the problems bright green innovations face on many front throughout North America. Though most North Americans don't realize it, in many ways the U.S. and Canada are now far behind the curve, not only in green building, but in urban development, product design, clean energy and so on. We need to reinvent our material civilization if we're to have any hope of reaching carbon neutrality, of course; but failing to do so also means missing out on the industries of the future, while Europe, Japan and China charge forward.

One of our board members, Rob Harrison, is an architect specializing in passive house design and sustainable building. I'm sure he'd be willing to answer questions, and engage in a dialogue about what green building could mean in the U.S. and Canada.

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it's not really a surprise why we're so far behind the curve...

1. federal, state and city governments have been severely deficient in mandating better energy performance across the board. the EU have been setting the bar significantly higher than stateside for years, with programs like germany's energieeinsparverordnung, freiburg's mandates on passivaus or niedrigenergiehaus for remodels and new buildings, etc. the dragging of the feet has stymied innovation and education (and therefore cost) on deep green building in the states for over a decade.

2. programs like LEED, while they may have started a long overdue discussion, are quickly showing their irrelevance in today's deep green world. design by checklist works unless the checklist is fatally flawed. unfortunately, LEED has never required significant energy savings for certification and unless they do so quickly (hooray, another update... does LEED=windows?) i think (hope) we'll see it replaced by tough, challenging and important performance-based programs like living building challenge, minergie, passivhaus, etc.

if seattle really wanted to show some deep-geen initiative, it would push for all new city buildings to meet passivhaus, and not just LEED silver, which has shown time and time again to be too easy and not perform as intended.[_id_inhalt]=5343485

Posted by: bruteforcecollaborative on 26 Sep 10

Seattle will shortly have two completed Passive House examples to show what can be done on a modest budget in the Pacific Northwest with readily available materials and components. The Mini-B (mini-bungalow) Passive House, all 300sf of it, will soon be on display at the Phinney Neighborhood Center in north Seattle. It has achieved the remarkable energy efficiency standard of Passive House with the labor of students in the Wood Construction Program of Seattle Central Community College with a modular design by Joe Giampietro of JBDG, Inc. We plan to expand on this mode of construction for affordable housing in our general practice.
Come visit the Mini-B at PNA beginning in November.
The other "first" Seattle Passive House is by Dan Whitmore of Blackbird Builders. It can be followed at
Check it out!

Posted by: Joe Giampietro on 26 Sep 10

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