The Passive House in Portland: “Negawatts”, Not Oil

Oil continues to spew into the Gulf, progress on an energy bill is uncertain, and the glaciers are melting. What’s a builder to do?

Build a Passive House. Or remodel existing homes to Passive House standards.

Passive House (or Passivhaus as they say in Europe) is about simplicity over complexity.  Energy consumption in Passive House projects is reduced by 90% or more compared to conventional homes.  But this energy efficiency is not achieved by complex technology or weird building designs.  Instead, Passive House homes are normal living spaces that employ a simple set of building technologies to achieve tremendous energy efficiency.

We at Hammer and Hand are really excited about the potential for Passive House homes in Portland, and our own Sam Hagerman is on the verge of earning his certification as a Certified Passive House Consultant. We’re building technology nerds here, so we’re naturally drawn to stuff like this … but this is the real deal: a practical, local, sustainable part of the solution to big energy problems.

The Passive House allow us, as green builders and green home dwellers, to generate “negawatts” – major energy savings that are, when you think about it, equivalent to actually generating additional energy. But totally clean.

So what makes a Passive House a Passive House? The main components are thick insulation, few or no “thermal bridges” (elements or penetrations that allow heat or cold to leak through the thermal envelope), an airtight envelope, insulated glazing (windows), and balanced energy recovery ventilation that continually brings in fresh air while capturing energy from exhausted air.

What does all of this mean? Huge energy savings. So much so that conventional, energy-intensive heating systems can be replaced by a single 1000-watt heater. Heat from people, lights, appliances and the sun does the rest.

This Friday we’re joining other green builders from across the Northwest at Passive House Northwest’s Summer Regional Meeting where we’ll network with other like-minded folks, learn from ongoing Passive House project examples, and connect with manufacturers and distributors of high performance building products.

Check out our passive house construction page to learn more and link to Passive House case studies from across the country.

– Zack

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