On August 23, in a quiet residential neighborhood in Bethesda, MD, construction will begin on the area's first "Passive House," a building standard that is the only affordable way to seriously institute building practices that address climate change.
The project is a joint venture between O'Neill Construction Corporation, of Gaithersburg, MD, and Peabody Architects of Alexandria, VA.
Consumes Ninety Percent Less Energy
Passive House (from the German Passivhaus), now taking hold in the United States, is a leading green-building standard in Europe and the most stringent energy certification standard in the world. It produces buildings that use one-tenth of the heating and cooling energy of conventional buildings, while adding, on average, only 10 to 15 percent to the cost of construction. In larger building types, such as schools and office buildings, this standard is easier to reach and the cost differential versus a conventional building runs even lower. With a new energy bill going up before the Senate this summer, the time could not be more auspicious for the arrival of the Passive House in Washington, DC.
The Passive House approach produces buildings that need so little energy it makes irrelevant the more glamorous and expensive high tech solutions – photovoltaics and geothermal heat pumps – that get most of the attention in terms of tax incentives. It is accomplished with the most prosaic and affordable of materials: lots of insulation and sealants. What makes it all work are highly sophisticated energy modeling software and an assiduous approach to eliminating thermal bridging (the rapid transfer of interior heat to a cool area) in the building envelope —all developed by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. Studies conducted on the thousands of European projects completed over the last 15 years have uncovered an additional advantage to this construction approach: very high levels of interior air quality and extremely high ratings for comfort.
Efficient, Attractive, Affordable Home
The O'Neill-Peabody project, designed in the Craftsman vernacular of the American Foursquare, is out to demonstrate that this exotic sounding European import can look and feel like a traditional American home that sells at a competitive price. Brendan O'Neill Sr., whose firm has built its reputation by recreating traditional building styles, was interested when David Peabody told him about the advantages of Passive House construction, but knew that his customers would not get excited about a building that looked like a box. O'Neill and his son visited two recently completed Passive Houses in Illinois—as it turned out, right in the middle of a true Midwestern blizzard.