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Innovating Passive House in Montana

Everyone wants to know- “what’s the next big thing?” For those of us in construction, we got our answer from the paper last week.

The New York Times ran an article titled The Passive House: Sealed for Freshness in their home and garden section that’s generating a lot of buzz. Passive House is a voluntary standard that guides architects and contractors in creating buildings that use drastically less energy than typical modern buildings. This standard is very popular in Europe, but has only recently gained traction in the United States. At Energetechs we are committed to building the most energy efficient buildings possible, but we like Passive House because this standard presents so many other great benefits to our clients.

Comfort

Passive House buildings are amazingly comfortable. The foundation, walls, and roof are built to be 8 times more air tight- which means that there are zero uncomfortable drafts or cold spots in the house. Insulation in a Passive House is also typically 3-4 times thicker than construction under the current codes. These features work together to create even temperatures and no uncomfortable drafts- all winter and all summer. With high quality windows, thick insulation, and no mechanical systems these buildings are incredibly quiet.

A Passive House in Washington State, photo by Zola Windows/Artisans Group.

A Passive House in Washington State, photo by Zola Windows/Artisans Group.

Health

Passive House buildings are healthier for families. The air tightness that contributes to comfort also means that each Passive House uses a recovery ventilation system to ensure pristine indoor air quality. These systems continually remove dust, pollutants, and stale air from the living space, and bring in fresh air from the outdoors. These systems also remove moisture from the living space, significantly reducing the likelihood that future occupants might experience moisture related health issues.

Durability

With air tight construction, dedicated ventilation, and advanced insulation, Passive House buildings are exceptionally durable. Durability can often be overlooked in valuing a property, but maintenance costs are a major headache for many building owners. Furthermore, because they use so little energy the dedicated heating and cooling systems can be small and simple- making them cost less and be more reliable.

Net Zero Ready

Many people in the construction industry criticize Passive House for being too extreme. We disagree because of the underlying goals behind the lofty energy use targets. Each of the other benefits listed above contribute to improving comfort and reducing energy bills. The energy consumption targets outlined by the Passive House standard ensure each building meets two underlying goals:

  1. Passive Survivability: Even with no human interaction, and no energy inputs (other than the sun rising and setting), the building will always be livable. Called “passive survivability” this is a hot topic for New York and New Orleans after major storms wiped out utility service. Even in Montana’s harsh winter, a Passive House will remain 50F or warmer, with no energy inputs at all.
  2. Net Zero: If a building can produce as much energy on the site it sits on as it consumes over the course of the year, then it is considered “net-zero”.  The Passive House standards outline energy use so low that each building would likely be able to generate all of the energy it needs, using current technology. That means that even if putting solar panels on a house doesn’t make sense for the owner now, down the line (when solar costs continue to drop) producing all of its own power is a very viable option.
A Passive House in Oregon, from our friends at Hammer and Hand Construction.

A Passive House in Oregon, from our friends at Hammer and Hand Construction.

Building Innovation

Our economy is focused on innovation. What is “the next big thing?” How can we innovate our community towards prosperity? Towards strength, and health, and happiness? We believe Passive House is “the next big thing” in buildings. With all of the benefits, it represents the future of value and quality, even though it may cost more in the present. Even though our team hasn’t built a Passive House yet, we have a Certified Passive House Consultant on our staff, and employ Passive House methods and materials on almost every job. It is what we innovate towards as craftsmen, and what we aspire to as members of our community. Stay tuned for more about how we are re-tooling our process to be ready for the next big thing in incredible buildings.

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