Energy-efficient and eco-friendly homes have been the subject of posts here in the past. Virginia Carabelli shared her first-hand experience with straw bale construction, and we’ve seen stories about earthships made from recycled material and houses covered in solar panels. Now we’re learning about a whole category of houses that can be certified as “passive” to a standard popularized in Germany. These buildings are like a thermos: extremely well insulated so that heating and cooling costs can be minimized to the point where the house is projected to use up to 90% less energy than the average house. Habitat for Humanity, in collaboration with other organizations for funding and discounts on domestic electronics, is building several houses in the DC area for a low-income neighborhood: Wendy Koch reports for National Geographic:
Built partly by volunteers, these low-budget Habitat for Humanity homes—now nearing completion—don’t look like anything special. They have basic brick facades like others in their gentrifying Ivy City neighborhood.
They stand out in other ways: 12-inch-thick exterior walls and triple-pane, imported-from-Ireland windows offer more than double the insulation required of new homes. In lieu of a furnace, tiny, wall-mounted Mitsubishi units provide heating and cooling. (See related blog post: “Laying the Foundation for Sustainable Housing in D.C.“)
The passive standard is buoyed by efforts to fight climate change, because buildings account for 40 percent of total U.S. energy use and 10 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions. In September, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed it as one way to help the Big Apple meet its goal of slashing emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. (Take the quiz: What You Don’t Know About Energy Efficiency.)
Set to house low-income families, the rowhouses are on track to do something the president’s place nearby has not—meet perhaps the world’s strictest energy rubric: Passive House, popularized in uber-efficient Germany and now gaining ground in the United States.
“We’re definitely in an exponential growth phase right now,” says German-born architect Katrin Klingenberg, co-founder and executive director of the private, Illinois-based Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS). The growth is so rapid that it’s a bit “scary,” she adds.
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