Action-Housing, an affordable-housing developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, recently celebrated the opening of Pittsburgh Green House, a 110-year-old home that has been renovated to serve as a training facility for weatherization and residential construction contractors.
Co-created by Phipps Conservatory and the Green Building Alliance, Pittsburgh Green House dovetails with Action-Housing’s mission as a weatherization services provider. (The group has weatherized the homes of more than 39,000 low-income families since 1982.) The house also demonstrates Action-Housing's commitment to develop techniques for building affordable, energy-efficient homes.
Action-Housing is not only involved in renovation projects, however; the group also tackles new construction. The developer broke ground this month on a two-story, three-bedroom house in Pittsburgh’s Carnegie borough that will be built to the Passivhaus standard. Billing the project as Pittsburgh’s first Passivhaus, Action-Housing is collaborating with TBI Contracting and architecture firm Thoughtful Balance to create a 1,800-sq.-ft. home whose annual heating costs could be as low as $240 (depending on occupant behavior) without renewable-energy systems.
Thoughtful Balance associate Michael Whartnaby, who recently completed training as a Passivhaus consultant with 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., told the Pittsburgh Business Times that construction costs are expected to total about $225,000, or just over 12% more than construction costs on a house with the same floor plan that barely meets code.
Renewable-energy systems were ruled out to help keep costs down, one of the consultants on the projects, Linda Metropulos, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"We wanted to make it affordable and energy-efficient without all the bells and whistles," said Metropulos, whose firm, Metropulos Development, specializes in “sustainable projects in urban settings.”
The Post-Gazette adds that Action-Housing officials were inspired to attempt a Passivhaus project during a housing conference in Europe in October 2010, when they visited single-family and midrise buildings on Berlin and Freiburg, Germany.