Guest Blogs

Connecting to the Grid Can Be Expensive

Posted on November 18, 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. This is the eighth blog in a series.

Straw-Bale Walls for Northern Climates

Posted on November 17, 2014 by ben graham

The mechanical baler was invented in the 1850s (Reynolds, History of Hay Balers), and it's been a while now since those folks in the Midwest put up a couple of bale houses. You would think that by now we would have very refined construction techniques for straw-bale construction, given that some of those original buildings are still standing. Well, we are getting there.

The Largest Passivhaus Building in the U.S.

Posted on November 13, 2014 by Mike Steffen

In Portland’s western suburbs, a structure is on the rise that could change the face of affordable housing in America. Situated adjacent to the Orenco Station light rail transit stop in Hillsboro, Oregon, the Orchards at Orenco will provide 57 units of housing. The project sponsor, REACH Community Development, is aiming to achieve 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. certification. When complete in the spring of 2015, Orchards at Orenco is slated to be the largest Passivhaus-certified building in North America.

Comparing North American Window Frames to European Frames

Posted on November 6, 2014 by Stephen Thwaites

[Editor's note: The author of this article, Stephen Thwaites, is a window manufacturer. His company, Thermotech Fiberglass FenestrationTechnically, any transparent or translucent material plus any sash, frame, mullion, or divider attached to it, including windows, skylights, glass doors, and curtain walls., is located in Ottawa, Ontario.]

Roof Sheathing and Window Bucks for the Potwine Passivhaus

Posted on November 4, 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. This is the seventh blog in a series.

Program Details of the One Knob Proposal

Posted on November 3, 2014 by Nate Adams

Has your experience working with an energy-efficiency program felt like the scene depicted in the photo at right? Did you feel that the correct and smart path departed from the paved path?

Having many colleagues on both the program and contractor sides, it’s pretty clear that utility incentive programs, as they stand today, fail. Let’s do better. Better for homeowners, better for contractors, and better for programs too! The One Knob program design is an attempt to pave a path where people want to walk.

Setting Roof Trusses at the Potwine Passivhaus

Posted on October 27, 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. This is the sixth blog in a series.

Hard Truths of Home Performance

Posted on October 23, 2014 by Nate Adams

If you've been reading my blogs, you know that I have learned some hard truths. You read the warts-and-all implosion story of my Century Club company in How an Efficiency Program Killed My Business.

Presumptive European Superiority Syndrome

Posted on October 21, 2014 by Stephen Thwaites

UPDATED on October 22, 2014 with an Addendum.

[Editor's note: The author of this article, Stephen Thwaites, is a window manufacturer. His company, Thermotech Fiberglass FenestrationTechnically, any transparent or translucent material plus any sash, frame, mullion, or divider attached to it, including windows, skylights, glass doors, and curtain walls., is located in Ottawa, Ontario.]

Most of the world, especially the green building community, assumes that “European” implies “more energy-efficient.” When it comes to windows, this automatic presumption of superior energy efficiency is both so common and so misplaced that it deserves a name: the Presumptive European Superiority Syndrome.

An Affordable Zero-Energy House in Massachusetts

Posted on October 16, 2014 by David Posluszny

Recently I designed and built my home in Shirley, Massachusetts. The design goal was to build a net-zero-energy house. However, it had to be comfortable to live in, easy to build with low-skilled labor, and very affordable.

I had to keep it simple because I had my family for laborers, and they do not have construction skills. The home also had to be comfortable to live in, with adequate daylightingUse of sunlight for daytime lighting needs. Daylighting strategies include solar orientation of windows as well as the use of skylights, clerestory windows, solar tubes, reflective surfaces, and interior glazing to allow light to move through a structure. and easy circulation. The budget demanded that the house be kept small, but several design tricks involving lines of sight were used to make the space feel much larger than it actually is.

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