Follow the construction of Tom's super-insulated home in Port Townsend, WA

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Before the big bang

It's hard to say when this project started. I've always wanted to build my own house and did a practice run on a log cabin 25 years ago. I did a lot of remodeling on the house in Seattle over 30 years, like the kitchen above. It has always bothered me that conventional houses use so much energy. I dreamed of passive solar, but the Seattle house was too leaky and poorly insulated for that.

A few years ago, I learned about the passive house from an article in the NY Times. The idea is to build a house for which the energy requirements are consistent with what we need to do in this era of global warming. See for a wealth of information. In a nutshell, build a small airtight super-insulated house with triple or quadruple pane windows that has south facing windows for solar gain and go easy on windows in other directions, especially North. Use an energy recovery ventilator to bring fresh air into the house while extracting 80% of the heat from the outgoing air and transferring it to the incoming air.

Is a passive house affordable? Home builders focus on the cost of construction, but more than 80% of the cost of a house over its usable lifetime is in operating it. A passive house is definitely affordable over 50-100 years, but I'll have to dig deeper into my wallet in the building phase. I'll try to keep track of construction costs in future postings and show where the passive house costs more.  The house was designed in interaction with PT architects Richard Berg and Jesse Thomas. Jesse went to training sessions put on by the Passive House Institute and has become an skilled passive house designer.

OK, enough background and theory.  Time to get real!

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