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Green Building News

Paths to Passivhaus in Santa Fe

The cost to build two Passivhaus homes in New Mexico was less than $140 a square foot

High country in New Mexico. Balance Project, a live-work condominium in Santa Fe built to the Passivhaus standard.
Image Credit: Mojarrab Stanford Architects
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High country in New Mexico. Balance Project, a live-work condominium in Santa Fe built to the Passivhaus standard.
Image Credit: Mojarrab Stanford Architects
The Balance Project on November 10, 2010. The Balance Project includes a total of 3,450 sq. ft. Optiwin triple-glazed windows were used throughout. The Volks House, a single-family two-bedroom home being built to the Passivhaus standard in Santa Fe. The Volks House in a photo taken on October 13, 2011. The Volks House will include a photovoltaic system to bring its performance to net zero energy. A recent blower-door test for Volks House showed 0.23 air changes per hour at 50 Pascals pressure difference. The Volks House includes 1,650 sq. ft. of interior space.

Suitable as it is for the city’s high-elevation climate, Passivhaus construction has been finding its footing in Santa Fe, where design-build teams such as Jonah Stanford and Vahid Mojarrab, of Mojarrab Stanford Architects, have been building to the standard while also aiming to keep costs from skyrocketing.

One of the buildings that illustrates their approach, called Balance Project, combines residential uses and workspace in a 3,450-sq.-ft. two-unit condo. The structure’s contemporary look distinguishes Balance Project from the pueblo-, territorial-, and pitched-roof-style homes common to Santa Fe and other parts of the Southwest, but the condo still manages to blend well with the buildings in the neighborhood, a redevelopment and historic district known as Santa Fe Railyard.

What stands out is, of course, Balance Project’s Passivhaus performance and its construction costs which, at about $135 per sq. ft., came in 20% below what is typical for conventional construction in Sante Fe, according to Stanford and Mojarrab.

As noted in a recent Inhabitat photo essay on the project, its exterior walls and roof are insulated with cellulose to R-52 and R-97, respectively – more than enough thermal resistance to deal with the hot summer sun and winter cold at 7,000 ft. above sea level. The building also is equipped with a solar hot water system.

A net-zero goal

While Balance Project is complete and occupied, Stanford and Mojarrab have another Passivhaus building, a single-family known as the Volks House, still under construction. This one will feature 1,650 sq. ft. and a small photovoltaic system to bring the home’s overall performance to net zero energy.

The two men say this project also is intended to “demonstrate the success” of their attempts at affordable Passivhaus construction. With an estimated construction cost of $129 per sq. ft., the three-bedroom, two-bath project is a spec home being developed by the builders’ partner, New York-based Robert Schneck. The estimated sales price is $345,000.

The airtightness strategy used for this project appears to be working. Stanford and Mojarrab say they supervised a blower-door test on the building that posted 0.23 air changes per hour at 50 Pascals pressure difference.

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