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Green Building News

Aiming for Passive House in Texas

A newly formed company in Austin goes for a deep energy retrofit and expansion on a ’50s-era home

Equitable Green Group, a building and geothermal heating and cooling specialist in Austin, Texas, bought this 55-year-old three-bedroom house with the intention of renovating it to the Passivhaus standard. It turns out most of the old framing, the roof, and most of the front had to be removed.
Image Credit: Equitable Green Group
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Equitable Green Group, a building and geothermal heating and cooling specialist in Austin, Texas, bought this 55-year-old three-bedroom house with the intention of renovating it to the Passivhaus standard. It turns out most of the old framing, the roof, and most of the front had to be removed.
Image Credit: Equitable Green Group
With the new siding up, window openings would soon be cut. The back of the house before it was bumped out. The back of the house, bumped out. The interior walls were ripped out, the old roof is being replaced, and new floors are being built. The pre-renovation structure featured vinyl flooring, aging fixtures, peeling paint, and a whiff of mold.

The original plan was to demolish the 1955-vintage three-bedroom house and then construct in its place a home that performs to the Passivhaus standard. According to the builder, Equitable Green Group (EEG), the old house was in relatively poor condition. But one feature of the old building saved it from complete demolition: a portion of the exterior siding contained asbestos, whose safe removal, EGG determined, would cost more than leaving the affected walls in place and rebuilding from there.

So the remodel, on a lot in Austin, Texas, features a design that involves replacing most of the existing building – which included a side wall that was knocked out in the 1970s so that the structure could be merged with an adjacent carport – and about half the foundation.

EGG’s founder, Nicholas Koch, had served as project manager for LEED consultant R&R Energy Resources, in Portland, Oregon, before moving to Austin to launch a company that, as he says on the EGG website, “would merge the innovation of the green movement with the equity movement so that advances in green building could benefit more communities.” The company specializes in geothermal heating and cooling and green building. The remodel, he adds, aims to be among the first homes in Texas to meet the Passivhaus standard.

More details from the builder

Koch told GBA that the house will measure about 1,800 sq. ft. It will be insulated with cellulose (shelves are built into the wall cavities, Koch noted, to help prevent settling) to about R-30 for the floor and ceiling and R-60 for the walls. The windows, from Inline Fiberglass, will be shaded by a 6-ft. porch roof on the front (west side) of the house. Large trees on the property shade most of the other windows during about 90% of the day and, overall, shade the building too much to make installing roof-mounted solar power practical.

The house will be equipped with an UltimateAir RecoupAerator energy-recovery ventilator (ERV), an “oversized” 1.5-ton mini-split system, and a hybrid heat-pump for both interior heat and water heating.

Koch, who is both the property owner and contractor on this project, said he is on track so far to complete the rebuild for about $60,000, adding that “it actually would have been cheaper for me to do a new construction project. So if I was to charge a client for this, I would still be profitable if I charged $80 to $100/sq. ft., which should be quite affordable for most people for a new construction project.”

One Comment

  1. Nicholas Blaise Koch | | #1

    This is my house!
    Thanks for the great write up, this have been a really fun project for me. And actually, since the writing of this article we've downgraded our HVAC system to a 3/4 ton (still oversized) mini split system. It may also be worth saying that we had to spend over $10,000 on asbestos removal, pest control (mainly termites) and other items that wouldn't be typical of every home. For updates or more information feel free to check out my blog at

    http://equitablegreengroup.wordpress.com/

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