GBA Logo horizontal Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter X Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Picture icon Hamburger Icon Close Icon Sorted
Green Building Blog

Build Like This

A simple approach to building a superefficient house starts with six key elements

Site-sensitive. Placing the house in a small clearing preserves aspects of the site that made it an attractive place to build. Photo taken at A on the floor plan.
Image Credit: Brian Vanden Brink

In 2008, when my business partner and I decided to form a design/build firm, we agreed to build to the highest standard of sustainability and to do so cost-effectively. With all our projects, we hoped to achieve a synergy between designing for human comfort, building in response to the site, and achieving long-term durability. We quickly agreed that the Passive House standard, which was just being introduced to the United States, would be the most comprehensive and clear measure of our success. To demonstrate that we had the ability to reach the standard, we built our first prototype, a house we called the GO Home. To reach the Passive House standard in Maine’s cold climate, we developed a new way to design and build homes collaboratively. The GO Home, completed in 2009, was Passive House certified, achieved LEED platinum, and was named the U.S. Green Building Council’s residential project of the year.

Since building the GO Home, we’ve refined our design-and-build approach in completing several other high-performance projects. This house in Bath, Maine, is based on one of our design-plan packages that delivers (depending on the site) a house that could meet the Passive House standard, that’s comfortable and attractive, and that has a modest base cost—roughly $160 per sq. ft. Here is how we achieve such grand results on such a low budget.

Design it to be compact

Wendy and Bill came to us because they were interested in building the smallest and most sustainable home they could for their retirement. Of the plans we offer, they chose to work with our 1000-sq.-ft plan, which includes one bedroom; two bathrooms; an open kitchen, dining, and living space; and a small study.

The shape of the house was influenced by…

GBA Prime

This article is only available to GBA Prime Members

Sign up for a free trial and get instant access to this article as well as GBA’s complete library of premium articles and construction details.

Start Free Trial


  1. Expert Member

    Nice House
    Looks like a very pleasant place to live, built on a surprisingly modest budget. For a small, tight floor plan a couple of things surprise me. No doubt the decisions came from consultation with the clients but the bathrooms seem odd. I'd assume the south bath would be used by guests, so having two doors into the en-suite seems a bit redundant, especially as it is right in the living room. I also can't find the washer-dryer.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Photos of this house under construction
    In June 2011, I visited this house when it was still under construction. To see four photos of the job site before the house was completed, and to read more about the project, see Job Sites in Maine, Part Three.

Log in or become a member to post a comment.



Recent Questions and Replies

  • |
  • |
  • |
  • |