Guest Blogs

Origami-Inspired Homes

Posted on August 28, 2014 by Greg Labbe

There’s a reason that every high-performance car is sleek and compact in shape; sleekness improves performance. The same principle applies to centuries-old sculptures that keep their features and endure centuries of weathering and the test of time: keep the shape simple.

Unfortunately, the current trend is to build large homes that have poorly designed floor spaces. The physical shape of these origami-like buildings impacts our lives, our comfort, and our energy bills.

Which Building Energy Statistics Make the Most Sense?

Posted on August 26, 2014 by Bill Maclay

There are many measures used to evaluate building energy efficiency: total kBtu1,000 Btus, kBtu/sq. ft./year, kWh/year, therms/year, kWh/sq. m./year, $/year, kBtu/person — and more. But determining when to use which metric, and even more importantly, how to make sense of a comparison of the energy efficiency of two different buildings, is no easy task.

Summer is Pretty Boring in a Superinsulated House

Posted on August 14, 2014 by Erik Haugsjaa

Summers in Massachusetts are easy in comparison to winters. Some people (myself included — a bit) saw air conditioning as the devil or something.

The Potwine Passivhaus in Amherst

Posted on August 12, 2014 by Alexi Arango

As they set out to build a single-family PassivhausA 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. on Potwine Lane in Amherst, Massachusetts, Alexi Arango and LeeAnn Kim asked themselves, “Is it possible to live without burning fossil fuels?” One measure of success would be meeting their goal of net-zero energyProducing as much energy on an annual basis as one consumes on site, usually with renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics or small-scale wind turbines. performance. In this first blog in a planned series, Arango reports on the start of their project.

Choosing Kitchen Appliances for a Passivhaus

Posted on August 5, 2014 by Andrea Lemon

After living in our house for 1½ years, I finally have enough distance to evaluate the many decisions that went into building it. I plan to write a series of "Hindsight" posts, speaking frankly about what worked and what we'd do differently if we had to do it all over again.

To start the series, I'm going to keep it simple and talk about our kitchen appliances. Don't worry, I'll cover all the hairy Passivhaus details eventually, but I'll start at the shallow end.

Running Our House on Prius Power

Posted on August 4, 2014 by Paul Honig

On Sunday morning June 30th, we experienced our first prolonged power outage since moving in to our new passive house in Connecticut. A tree came down on one of the power lines around the corner and power was out for about six hours. It was time to see our inverterDevice for converting direct-current (DC) electricity into the alternating-current (AC) form required for most home uses; necessary if home-generated electricity is to be fed into the electric grid through net-metering arrangements. in action — the inverter that we bought from Converdant Vehicles to turn our Prius into a backup generator.

Are LEED-Certified Buildings Energy-Efficient?

Posted on July 22, 2014 by Jim Newman

There has been some heated discussion lately about how much energy LEEDLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. -certified buildings use. When the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBCUnited States Green Building Council (USGBC). Organization devoted to promoting and certifying green buildings. USGBC created the LEED rating systems.) first came out with its Version 1 LEED Guideline in 2000, a building could earn LEED certification without any points in the energy section.

In the early 2000s, making a building more energy-efficient than the building codes was more of a challenge for architects and engineers than it is today. When applying for LEED certification, they would attempt the “easier” and often less expensive points available under other credits.

An Old House Gets a New Thermomass Basement

Posted on July 21, 2014 by Brian Butler

To prepare our bid for a comprehensive renovation project in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we visited the old house several times. On one of the walk-throughs, we realized that the foundation was failing in many places. We therefore proposed to raise the house and replace the entire foundation.

Raising this house was a challenging process, given the tight space and the existing condition of the house.

Air Leaks From Your Home To Your Attic Need To Be Sealed

Posted on July 3, 2014 by A. Tamasin Sterner

It’s important to keep attic air out of the house and house air out of the attic. That's why the home performance industry and every above-code building program make it a top priority to fully separate attics from the rest of the building.

When the attic isn’t fully air sealed from the living space and the combustion appliance zone, three undesirable scenarios can occur:

A House For Slow Living

Posted on July 1, 2014 by Robert Swinburne

The original concept for the house I am working on came to me in a dream (yes – I dream architecturally). I think the dream may have been generated by the image on the right, which has been on my bulletin board for a few years.

My original sketch was called “a house for food.”

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