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  1. Riversong | | #1

    $200 to $250 per sq. ft.

  2. homedesign | | #2

    Very Valid comment Robert.
    The Architecture is not a good "role model" for an Affordable Low Energy Enclosure.

  3. T7sX5ebany | | #3

    Any idea how much of the cost was down to finishes and fittings (which appear to be pretty high quality) and how much is down to an inherently greater expense in the envelope?
    The Salem, OR house featured earlier in the year may provide a better 'role model' in economic terms.

  4. mike eliason | | #4

    cost per square foot is a horrible metric for comparison, as labor/material rates are different throughout the country and not all owners want to build with low quality finishes. this project isn't intended as an 'affordable' role model. and $200/sf isn't expensive for higher quality custom construction

  5. Riversong | | #5

    $200/sf isn't expensive for higher quality custom construction

    Let's not confuse high quality with luxury amenities. I've seen hand-made log cabins and straw-bale and earthen homes of far higher quality than most custom homes.

    Quality, as Robert Pirsig reminded us in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, is that ineffable thing that cannot be named. It has far more to do with care, craft and intention than with material excess or superficial glitz.

  6. VSToB3HjGw | | #6

    I've always thought that the number of hours of skilled labor would provide a better idea of the difficulty of a project than just cost per square foot. Add some scale of cost of the amenities, high, medium, low or whatever. Apply your own values to labor hours, etc. and the cost per square foot would have more meaning.

  7. homedesign | | #7

    maybe the cost of this project is a distraction.
    I would like to get back to "summer shading" and the Architecture.

    Most of the German Passivhaus examples that I have seen seem to account for summer shading of the glass.
    In the German examples the "gable ends" usually face to the East & West
    When the South wall is more than one story tall ... there is always a second tier of shading.

  8. Anonymous | | #8

    When the cost per square foot is given, I've always assumed that is only building costs and not site development (septic, water, electric). Am I correct? The Passihaus in Urbana was $94 psf, Hudson Valley $200 psf. Much different levels of finish design. I'd like more talk of cost per square foot.

  9. mike eliason | | #9


    EU passivhaus projects tend to use glass with really high SHGC (g = 50% or higher, there are a number with over 60%)

    to prevent summertime overheating, shading is provided outside the thermal envelope. a number of US PH projects utilizing high-SHGC have successfully incorporated these features as well.

    in most cases, this is done w/ a roll-down type system integrated into facade (typ. rear ventilated rainscreen) - walter unterrainer does this a lot.

    in others, sliding/folding shutters (TU darmstadt passivhaus, root design build's shift house, etc)

    and then others have fixed shading. this can vary from a trellis-like application, to utilizing solar collectors or PVs as shading devices.

  10. VSToB3HjGw | | #10

    Mike, It is difficult to tell from the links, but are you saying that some homes need to block out the summer sun (and view) on the south in order to have a liveable home? That seems to be the purpose of the rolling or folding shutters. That also seems wrong.

  11. Riversong | | #11

    A more relevant question is:

    Why are Passive Houses consistently ugly techno-monstrosities?

    Could there be an inverse relationship between absolute faith in engineering and aesthetic sensibilities?

  12. homedesign | | #12

    Maybe I am just getting old.
    I have learned to appreciate less glazing.
    I don't think we really need more than Energy Star 18% standard for good daylighting and nice "framed views" of the outdoors
    If I want to feel like I am outdoors... I go outdoors

    I blame the overglazing on the Architecture Schools and the Periodicals

  13. Riversong | | #13


    If we spend 97% of our time indoors, how else will we know that there is an outdoors outdoors?

  14. mike eliason | | #14

    john r.,

    i don't see how it's 'wrong' - it's just an approach preferred by the designers/clients.

    i have relatives that live in the desert - they don't have A/C and therefore close all windows and blinds during heat of the day to keep the house cool. some of these projects utilize a similar concept - operable shutters that prevent solar gain during the warmest hours of the summer (when the owners aren't home anyway). there are methods of mitigating the impact of limiting the views. you could have a lamella of thin blade-like shades that prevent the sun from penetrating the envelope but still allow a view.

    operable shades aren't needed if properly sized overhangs are utilized.

    your overly subjective question is fairly irrelevant. what you find a 'techno monstrosity' - lots of people find to be an aesthetically pleasing representation of the present, combining aesthetic, engineering and mechanical sensibilities into a stunning gesamtkunstwerk.

    passivhaus projects can be well-designed, or as consistently hideous as most non-passivhaus projects. your houses (and frankly, most of the historically incorrect 'neo-tradiitional' projects presented on GBA) don't do anything for me from an aesthetics/livability/functionality standpoint, but i'm intrigued by some of the construction methods used.

  15. Riversong | | #15

    Beauty is no more subjective than truth.

    Authentic beauty transcends time and culture, just as authentic truth is universal.

  16. homedesign | | #16

    Mike E,
    I respect Passivhaus & PHIUS.
    I also appreciate you for "sticking around" and providing feedback.

  17. homedesign | | #17

    Mike E :operable shades aren't needed if properly sized overhangs are utilized.

    This is the point that I am trying to make about the Hudson Valley Project.
    I live in a Hot/Mixed Humid climate.
    Our best strategy is to stop the summer sun BEFORE it hits the glass.
    I think the same strategy would serve well in all climates with a summer season.

    "operable" does not sound passive to me.

  18. homedesign | | #18

    My point about Overglazing is Related to Affordable Low Energy Enclosures.

    I understand that the PH standard CAN be achieved with high glazing percentage if you Throw enough money into High Dollar Windows.

    There is a "Zero energy" home in Germany that is almost 100% glass
    It can be done ...

    I am more interested in affordable comfort.

  19. homedesign | | #19

    As far as aesthetics go.
    I have given up trying to influence the "taste" of the public.
    We need stratagems that work with all styles of Architecture.

  20. Riversong | | #20

    I am more interested in affordable comfort...We need stratagems that work with all styles of Architecture.

    This should probably go in the "Is there a green quest for the masses?" thread (and it will), but John Connell, the founder of Yestermorrow Design/Build School, has been working for several years with New England's manufactured housing companies to move them toward "green". He teaches a course called "Putting the Fab back in Pre-Fab", and organized a competition a couple years ago with teams of architects and housing manufacturers to design an affordable "green" modular housing unit, with the winner getting built in a cluster development of 22 to 55 units on 4 acres.

    All five entries took Gold LEED and one got Platinum.

  21. user-659915 | | #21

    As far as aesthetics go:
    Aesthetics is more than 'including architectural elements borrowed from other buildings we really like'. The glulam portal frames may appeal by reminding us of a really cool contemporary church or maybe a forest service building. There is a historical resonance too with the medieval English cruck cottage. We have to question though the success of their adaptation to this domestic situation. The arches are expensive and yes, elegant, so the designer feels compelled to reveal them throughout the interior. I'm sorry to say the end result is very far from a 'stunning gesamtkunstwerk': it would be better described as a deeply compromised residential plan with questionable functionality both in layout and daylighting. From a layout perspective, at 1600 s.f. this is essentially a one-bedroom 2-bathroom plan with a study loft that overlooks the kitchen mess and a 25' ceiling peak that will result in moderate to severe thermal stratification. The upper level 'bedroom' (is it one or two?) has access to a bathroom only via an awkward stair and the public space of the main room and I'd venture a guess this would be thought by most people unsatisfactory for anything but occasional use. Despite the generous space offered by the whole enclosure the 'master bath' is mean and cramped and enjoys not even borrowed daylight. The fully glazed end wall, whatever its solar gain performance, is a contrast glare disaster and by any standards a major aesthetic fail. For a deeper understanding of what aesthetics means in architecture, Christopher Alexander has a lot to offer, as does the traditional aesthetic discipline of Feng Shui. Read your Pattern Language, people!

    I have offered a blunt critique here because I been asked to remedy these and similar deficiencies in a number of similar A-frame structures from the 1970's and I have to say they are one of the most difficult formats to work with, maybe harder even than the dreaded split-level. I will even confess to having designed one of these from scratch for a most insistent client about a dozen years ago, I was able to mitigate the light tunnel effect of the main volume by introducing a large side window but the secondary spaces remained really rather unsatisfactory. The owner ended up selling this deeply personalized home at a loss just a few years later.

  22. mike eliason | | #22


    in some instances, overhangs aren't desired (e.g. an austere and beautiful 'box')

    and even with overhangs, there might not be enough distance to shade all the window (e.g. if up against a site boundary) or windows a story below the overhang. operable shades are no more 'active' than operable windows you use to naturally ventilate during a warm day.

    you can still achieve 'affordable' comfort with higher percentage of glazing, if located properly and selectively.

    that 'net zero' project that's all glass is a technical marvel - werner sobek is a friggin genius - zero energy, zero emission, zero waste. i don't think any of us would consider it 'affordable' but that's no surprise given the experimental nature of it.

    i don't think there are 'strategems' that will work in all climates - different climates demand different responses. you could do a PH in san diego (code minimum insulation, basically just need to shade the windows...) or the caribbean - but it doesn't really make sense to me.


    i've consistently questioned the design of the hudson house - as an architect, the whole thing really perplexes me. my feelings on christopher alexander are mixed. his built work hardly personifies 'a pattern language' in a pleasing manner, and architects who attempt to use 'patterns' usually end up with less than beautiful buildings as well. maybe that's what happens when you take things out of context and cobble them together with limited rationale?

  23. user-757117 | | #23

    in some instances, overhangs aren't desired (e.g. an austere and beautiful 'box')

    I'm not an architect, but having flipped through "Dwell" a few times I've noticed that this style seems popular and I always wondered why.
    Is this just "de rigeur"?
    I have to say that from a practical stand-point it seems to make little sense - no offense Mike.

  24. mike eliason | | #24


    no offense taken - i've got a very narrow scope of what i would consider a beautiful building and know it isn't desirable for a large chunk of the populace (they just need to be educated!).

    dwell is oriented towards more urban/modern viewers - hence the seeming popularity.

    i think it really comes down to personal preference. the parapet detail/flat roof allows for a more modern reading of the facade, and sometimes really creative use of interior space/daylight. one of the things i like about living here in the NW is there is a decent mix of modern buildings utilizing flat roofs/parapets and shed/sloped roofs.

    from a practicality stand point, i don't see it being more or less effective than anything else. flat roofs have been in use for quite a while now. i've not seen a study that says flat roofs leak any more than sloped roofs. as with anything, it really comes down to getting the detailing right.

  25. user-659915 | | #25

    Mike I agree that using a pattern does not guarantee a beautiful building: most great architects who have drawn from such a source - Richardson, for example, or Wren - have taken their pattern merely as a starting point and then transcended it. But most of us do not aspire to greatness, and despite its name A Pattern Language is more useful as a source of insights than it is a pattern book in the manner of Vitruvius or Palladio; in this case of insights on the importance of sunlight and daylight and how they may be managed and exalted.

    With regards to Alexander's built work it is often the case that a great and influential architectural theorist is not among the best practitioners, and vice versa - was it Aalto who said " I don't write, I build"? Now there's a Gesamtkunstwerker if you like.

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