Sonnenhaus Village, a trio of student residences planned for the campus of Unity College, in Unity, Maine, is taking shape as a showcase for energy efficient student housing: the first of the three buildings not only demonstrates economy of space – accommodating 10 students in about 2,000 sq. ft. – it also is designed and built to perform to the Passivhaus standard.
Dubbed TerraHaus, the building is touted as the first Passivhaus-designed student residence on a U.S. college campus. And it is as much a teaching and research tool as it is a piece of campus infrastructure. Students and faculty at Unity College, which specializes in environmental studies, assisted with the design and construction of the project, whose collaborators also included design-and-build firm G•O Logic, of Belfast, Maine, and landscape and urban design specialist Ann Kearsley Design, based in Portland.
A perspective on certification requirements
Douglas Fox, director of Unity’s Center for Sustainability and Global Change, has been blogging about the progress of construction and commenting on the materials, wall system, and mechanical systems installed in TerraHaus. As student dormitories go, TerraHaus shaped up as an anomaly, or at least very unusual. At one point, though, Fox zeroed in on its compactness – “comfortable housing for 10 students in 2,000 sq. ft.” – to illustrate what he would add to Passivhaus certification criteria to help the standard address the footprints of apartments and college residence halls.
“I wouldn’t ask the Passive House folks to shift away from an energy-per-unit-area requirement,” he wrote, “but perhaps a provision could be added to modify the energy requirement for apartments and college residence halls designed to accommodate more than one person in 500 square feet. The effect on energy conservation would not be reduced because building footprints would shrink.”
Fox added that the design team incorporated a number of features to create a comfortable mix of comfort and compactness. His list:
- Careful attention to acoustical separation to provide privacy in bedrooms and bathrooms
- Open design for the kitchen, dining area, and living area
- Generous mudroom space with “cubbies” for outdoor gear
- Use of white paint and large windows to increase the feeling of spaciousness
- Separated shower and toilet facilities for efficient privacy
- Individual thermostats in each bedroom
- Good connection to outdoor spaces
As for cost, final figures aren’t in yet, Fox said, but noted that “preliminary data indicates that this type of construction is very cost-effective for college campuses – much lower cost per square foot and per student than reported for other new residence hall construction in the Northeast.”