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Gearing Up for a Passive House Residence at Unity College

G•O Logic Homes of Belfast, Maine, will lead the way in designing and building what could become the first college student residence in the U.S. to earn Passive House certification

Posted on Oct 9 2010 by Richard Defendorf

We’ve seen plenty of undergraduate and graduate students and faculty members get deep into design, construction, and logistics as they prepare 800-sq.-ft. homes for competition in the Solar Decathlon. But there are other academic forums for training your brain on energy efficiency and getting your hands dirty on a construction site, not the least being the “cottage style” student residence being designed for Unity College, in Unity, Maine.

Last month, the college announced that the project got a significant push thanks to a $389,000 grant from the Kendeda Fund, a Delaware-based charitable program dedicated to exploring how to use natural resources sustainably. Early this week the school, whose curriculum covers a wide range of environmental disciplines, added that a designer and builder had been selected for the project: G•O Logic Homes, based in nearby Belfast, Maine.

For students at Unity, this project could be one of the most instructive lab exercises imaginable, since many of them will participate in the design and construction of the building on the campus. Another key aspect of the project is that it is being designed to perform to the Passivhaus standard. Should the completed building earn certification from Passive HouseA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. Institute U.S., school administrators say, it would be the first residence hall of its kind on a college or university campus in the U.S.

There also will be a permanent public educational component for the hall, Robert Constantine, vice president for college advancement at the school, told the Republican Journal.

High-performance credibility
Right now the project is in its preliminary stages of design, so the square footage, level and type of shell insulation, renewable-energy features, projected costs, renderings, and other details are not yet available. Buildings of this type are not brand new to Unity College, however: Unity House, a 1,937-square-foot LEED Platinum modular home on the campus, was built by Bensonwood Homes of Walpole, N.H. in the summer of 2008 and serves as the residence for the school’s president.

In addition, G•O Logic’s portfolio features a number of energy-efficient residential structures, including BrightBuilt Barn, a studio-size prototype built largely off-site that was developed in collaboration with Kaplan Thompson Architects, Bensonwood Woodworking Company, and a number of engineers. Another G•O Logic project is Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, in Belfast, Maine, a 36-home development (including a 1,500-sq.-ft. prototype whose design and construction incorporate Passivhaus principles), that is being built on three acres of the community’s 30-acre site. So the planned residence at Unity will fit in nicely with the energy efficiency inclinations of both the builder and the school.

“Not only is the Passivhaus standard at the very leading edge of the ‘what’s next’ for college and university campus construction,” G•O Logic architect Matthew O’Malia told the Republican Journal, “but this project is taking the concept one step further by involving students in all aspects of the project.”


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Image Credits:

  1. G•O Logic Homes

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