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Green Building News

California’s First New-Home Passivhaus Is Also a Rental

Built for low-income households in the Bay Area, Blue2 is a project of Community Land Trust Association of West Marin.

In Northern California. Terry Nordbye, who leads the crew building Blue2, a small house for low-income renters that also is aiming for Passivhaus performance, notes that house breaks from the visual style common among homes in western Marin County in that, to increase airtightness in the shell, the roof-and-wall assembly includes no rafter tails.
Image Credit: Community Land Trust Association of West Marin
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In Northern California. Terry Nordbye, who leads the crew building Blue2, a small house for low-income renters that also is aiming for Passivhaus performance, notes that house breaks from the visual style common among homes in western Marin County in that, to increase airtightness in the shell, the roof-and-wall assembly includes no rafter tails.
Image Credit: Community Land Trust Association of West Marin
In his blog about Blue2's construction, Nordbye points out that each roof rafter landed on a wall stud, which eliminated the need for a double top plate. All the edges and openings of the framing were foamed to receive sheets of plywood. The interior walls of the slab bed were lined with 2-in. foam board, and the bed was filled with concrete to the top of the foam. Foam sealing around waste-line punctures through a 13-in. foam bed. Wood mudsills were set on top of a bed of roofing tar, the first step in air-sealing the framing to the concrete slab. The original Blue House, which was remodeled to near-Passivhaus performance. Click here for images and descriptions of the renovation.

A prevailing assumption about new homes built to offer an extremely high degree of energy efficiency, including the Passivhaus standard, is that most will be owned and occupied by high-income owners. But it turns out the first new home being built to the Passivhaus standard in California will be occupied by a low-income family living in the Bay Area.

Construction of the 750-sq.-ft. house, for which framing was completed only days ago, is the second phase of the Blue House Project, which is one of a number of initiatives designed to provide energy efficient rental homes for very-low-income households in western Marin County – those earning 60% or less of “area median income,” or a maximum of $58,080 per year for a family of four.

Blue2, as this Passivhaus-to-be is called, follows last year’s retrofit of a neighboring house (that is indeed blue) to near-Passivhaus performance. The Blue House Project is an initiative of the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin (CLAM), which was founded in 2001 by community members to create permanently affordable eco-friendly housing in the communities surrounding Tomales Bay. The goal is to create 50 affordable homes in 25 years.

Conquering a framing fear

An existing building on the Blue House Project site was torn down and its useable materials recycled for use in Blue2, which broke ground on February 20. Terry Nordbye, who is leading the project’s construction crew, is blogging about the build and posting photographs to document its progress and his perspective on the process. It is his first new-home build aimed at certification by Passive House Institute U.S., and at one point, he noted, he grew anxious about actually putting into practice the framing methods he had studied.

“Earlier in the week, I had decided to not start framing until next Monday,” he wrote. “I was hoping to get more information about the OVE (optimum value engineering) framing from Katy, the engineer. I was hoping it would rain so we would not have to start. I was looking for any reason not to start. Truth is I was scared to start. All my training, classes, preparing, endless emails and meetings were over and now I had to actually begin to build the first new passive house in California. The burden was enormous and I was nervous and intimidated. I just needed a little more time.

“Over tea and toast,” Nordbye continued, “I found my folly. I reviewed some PDFs on OVE and decided to cast my fear aside and just go for it. I dressed as if I were a soldier going off to battle. By the time I arrived at the job I was jubilant and cheering on the guys. ‘We are going to build a house today!’”

One Comment

  1. Katy Hollbacher | | #1

    Learn more about CLAM Blue2 at May 16 meeting in Bay Area
    I'm the engineer on the project whom Terry referred to, and I can attest that he incorporated the many "deep" Advanced Framing measures with flying colors... it's been so much fun working with a builder who's fully embraced these concepts and even pushed me to do more (not a scenario I've ever experienced). If anyone in Northern California wants to learn more about the design & construction process, Terry will be presenting on CLAM Blue2 at the next Passive House California meeting May 16- http://www.passivehouseca.org/meetings, along with architect James Bill and PHPP energy modeler Lowell Moulton.

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