One of the most appealing things about the web are the unplanned side trips you take on the way to somewhere else, which is how I found myself at Brute Force Collaborative, a blog with a special focus on Passivhaus projects.
BFC is the work of two Passivhaus designers, Michael Eliason and Aaron Yankauskas, who went to school together at Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies, and then worked for a time in Germany. Both eventually settled in Seattle.
“We’re initiating this blog to provide an outlet for opening up green dialog beyond LEED and associated greenwashing,” they write. “It is our goal to advance the green discussion beyond ‘sustainable’ carpets and bike racks – and moving it towards sensible, intelligent green design. This will manifest itself through the documentation of green architects, projects and building techniques that hopefully some of you may find useful.”
Both designers have a “major soft spot for small, green and well-detailed projects,” and, it seems, for Passivhaus, the ultra-low energy building standard that originated in Germany and is now making headway in the U.S. In addition to projects around the Pacific Northwest you also can read about ongoing work on the other side of the Atlantic, and that gives BFC unusual breadth.
One section of their blog is Passivhaus-only. Here you’ll find a good description of what the building standard is all about, and also a number of links to Passivhaus projects that are currently underway. Included are links to explanations of common terms, such as “thermal bridging” or “heat-recovery ventilator,” that will be useful to those just starting their forays into green building. (Full disclosure: GreenBuildingAdvisor is among the sources they cite.)
There are other sections as well, such as “elevating the discourse,” “greener architects,” and “sustainable practices.” In all, you’ll find plenty to read and some excellent leads to a variety of other blogs, designers and web sites.
And the unusual name for the blog?
“We were in a studio that designed and built a rammed earth house,” Eliason explained in an e-mail. “We were the guys who were always on site — rain or shine — digging trenches, moving dirt, trying to keep things moving along. Often quickly, albeit without much grace. Eventually, our professors dubbed us ‘brute’ and ‘force.’ We prefer to work collaboratively on a lot of things and are able to bounce ideas off each other rather well, and so ‘brute force collaborative’ just seemed to fit.”
On rethinking our fixation on multiple bathrooms
“The upper floor features 3 bedrooms and one bathroom shared by the entire household. I know my parents and half of the United States just collectively freaked out – but this is fairly common in Europe. It is one of the best ways to keep energy and water use (as well as construction costs) down. Yes, it does take better planning in the morning, but really, wouldn’t you rather have one incredible bathroom instead of 3 mediocre ones?”
On the importance of high performance windows
“We can’t reinforce this enough, Passivhaus windows should be energy positive, which can potentially reduce the amount of thermal insulation (and therefore carbon footprint) needed.”
On the benefits of Passivhaus
“We’ve been following PH for a few years, and are rather excited to see this post-LEED standard reach critical mass. Passivhaus is not only a proven route towards net zero, but a green building standard that routinely outperforms LEED where it counts: energy efficiency. And while having bike racks, ZEV parking, low/zero-VOC paints and recycled construction waste are good things – to us, that is really the starting point.”
On getting away from petroleum-based products
“We’re not big fans of the ‘thermos’ analogy for Passivhaus (probably stemming from my insulation-free days in Freiburg), and are highly motivated and interested in developing strategies to build Passivhaus buildings without layers of petroleum-based insulation above, below and outside of the home.”
On discovering new building materials
“As a young architecture praktikant in Germany, I quickly realized everything I knew about wooden construction was outdated, inefficient and irrelevant. My first experience with modern European timber practices was a polycarbonate-wrapped house that utilized brettstapel (mfr: Bresta).
“Brettstapel is, effectively, 2x boards mounted on dowels that are fabricated off-site and erected as panels. Quick, easy, effing brilliant. Brettstapel can be utilized for walls, floors and roofs. The products are available in various dimensions for acoustic and visual preferences.
“From here, my spidey-intern senses went nuts, and I realized that there was something very desirable, very sexy about these panels. It comes pre-finished, installs quickly, incorporates low-grade rapid-growth lumber effectively, sequesters carbon and can be optimized for thermal storage (a topic for the next post). Amazingly, building with CLT is like building study models with chipboard – you place a window wherever you want.”
On discovering that buying European windows saves C02
“This was shocking to us, as we expected the numbers to be significantly closer. Of course, the locally manufactured windows had the lowest transportation CO2 production – that only makes sense. However, the superior frames and glazing from Europe require significantly less insulation in the envelope.
“This definitely seems backwards and goes against conventional wisdom, but in this instance, shipping windows from Europe saves CO2 – a whole lot of CO2. In fact, with an average of 14,634 lbs CO2 for the three North American options, the European windows can save six tons of CO2 emissions. That is not insignificant, and something to keep in mind if North American manufacturers don’t think that developing high performance glazing is a worthwhile venture.”
Mike Eliason has written a guest blog for GBA: A Passivhaus Rebuttal.