Today we received our official Passive House certification.

While the green building community has lavished a lot of attention on Passive House in the past couple years, there are so few actual projects in the US we felt it was important to invest a bit more in the certification process.

Eventually US building codes (and other green certification schemes) will get serious about controlling energy consumption through improved enclosures, but until that time we need more clients, architects, and builders to voluntarily aim for higher standards.


The View From Inside

This winter has been particularly harsh, and because of that we are very thankful that we moved into our house when we did. Having spent so much time indoors lately, we’ve gotten settled enough to be able to finally post some pictures of the inside. Pictures below feature the living areas and beds/baths upstairs. I’m eager to post pictures of the entry hall, the mudroom, and the whole kitchen, but those aren’t yet camera-ready.

One Month In

We’ve been living in the house since the end of December, bringing nearly three years of planning and construction to a satisfying conclusion. We’re happy to report that all the benefits of Passive House construction are for real – the indoor comfort is truly remarkable, even with this winter’s frigid temperatures.

Any high-performance home project, Passive House or otherwise, requires a coordinated team effort to bring the building’s design to life and satisfy the performance criteria. It’s all about attention to detail. We couldn’t be more pleased with the collaboration between our architects at GO Logic, way up in Belfast, Maine, and our meticulous team of carpenters from Cooper Lane Builders in Stafford Springs. We’re proud to share their great work!

Snowy afternoon.

Snowy afternoon, best viewed at large size.

Final Frenzy

We have made substantial progress this month, but also have had a bit of schedule creep so it looks like we’ll be wrapping things up in December. Over the next couple weeks we expect the wood floors upstairs and the stairs to be finished. The plumber and electrician each have a few more days of work. Painting is almost complete. The building inspector is coming in early December to do a preliminary review for the Certificate of Occupancy. Below are some pictures from the last few weeks.

Yard Work

There has been a lot going on outside these days, too: the septic has been installed, the well lines have been run, the walkway from the house to the garage has been built, and final grading of the property will be finished in the next few days.

Inside Job

The approaching cold weather has made working inside a warm house a very compelling option for our carpenters. While there is still plenty to do outside, notably finishing the siding for the house, the interior is the big focus for us right now.

Warm Walls

Finally – we have drywall. The drywall hangers took two days to put walls on almost all the surfaces in the house. They were really something to watch. The taping crew comes tomorrow to start their work.

But before we had drywall, we had insulation. Most of the walls and the two roofs all have blown cellulose. The plumbing-pipe-filled exterior walls have mineral wool batts in case there’s ever a leak (cellulose doesn’t dry out very easily). The interior walls and ceilings also have mineral wool for soundproofing.

Last Saturday, we hosted an Open House for NESEA’s Green Buildings Open House Tour. The attendees were lucky that our drywall installation was delayed and they were able to see inside our walls. Only on a green house tour would the attendees WANT to see inside someone’s walls!

Moving Right Along

Progress in the last week: siding installation is underway; the well was drilled with success; the garage doors were installed; copper lines for the ductless mini-split system were run; the plumbing and electrical rough-ins were finished. Today we had the rough inspection. A few minor things need to be done and we’ll have the inspector come back on Thursday to take another look. Looks like insulation will be installed starting Friday, and if we stay on pace, we could be starting drywall next week! We are currently on track to finish in early November.

Full Circle

Three years ago, in the fall of 2010, as we were just starting to consider the idea of building our own house, we learned about the Green Buildings Open House Tour. The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) sponsors the event each year, and describes it as follows:

“The Green Buildings Open House Tour is the largest sustainable energy event in the Northeastern US. From Maine all the way down to Pennsylvania, hundreds of sustainability-minded property owners will open their doors to visitors interested in seeing sustainability features first hand. The one-day terrestrial tour allows visitors to engage in face-to-face discussions with property owners and learn from the knowledge and expertise they have gained from installing and living with these technologies.”

We learned a lot by visiting just one house that year. It was a beautiful house whose owners had thought of everything. Super-insulated, daylighted, solar hot water in custom tanks, gray water system, rain water collection, wood pellet furnace, backup HVAC, solar pool heater, PV electricity with huge backup generators, and on and on…. The highlight of the tour was their large utility room in the basement, crammed with large tanks and copper pipes snaking across the walls and ceiling. It was bewildering. It was a marvel of systems!

It gave us a lot to think about. And this article was published at around the same time. And we realized that if we were going to do it, it should be as simple as possible in all respects — design, maintenance, layout, functions, and access to outside. Passive House — or Passivhaus if you want to be European about it — was the solution.

On October 5, 2013, we will open our doors to visitors for the Green Buildings Open House. We hope to not only let neighbors see into the house down the street, but also maybe to inspire a few people to think about increasing the energy efficiency of their own houses or maybe even build one someday. We’re excited and proud to show off our house!


Testing Airtightness

The carpenters have been working on odds and ends while the plumber and electrician finish their rough-ins. We should be ready for inspections by week’s end. In the meantime, the last of the windows and doors were installed and the air sealing for the house was completed. This morning was our first blower door test. For those who don’t know, the test measures how much air leaks into the house through any gaps in the building enclosure (slab, walls, windows, roof), however small they may be. For Passive House certification, we need to be below 0.6 air changes per hour at 50 pascals of pressure. Our test this morning measured 0.4, which is fantastic. We later discovered that 1) there was an empty 2″ conduit for electrical wiring that had not been sealed, and 2) two of our four doors were leaking air on the hinge side and can be adjusted. Our final test when the house is complete should be even better!