Passive Houses Use 90% Less Energy —Really?

Yes, really.  You think the oil, coal, natural gas and HVAC companies want you to know about this. NOT.  The Passive House movement is in its infancy in the US but it’s already a young adult in Europe.  It’s called “passive” because heating or cooling these homes relies completely on natural resources.  In other words there are no active systems involved in the 90% reduction in energy use!  How is this possible I’m sure you want to know.  Why didn’t I know about this might be another question.

A passive house uses orientation, super insulation, advanced window technology, air tightness, and shading to achieve standards that are set by the Passiv Haus Institute. These standards eliminate the need for a conventional HVAC system or for solar panels and geothermal systems.  Although some homes have an option for solar systems.  An energy recovery ventilation system provides a constant, balanced fresh air supply, a uniquely terrific indoor air quality, AND reduces energy use and carbon emissions, according to the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS)

Do passive houses cost more to build?  Yep.  David Peabody, a Washington metro area architect and passionate promoter of sustainable architecture and passive houses is building a passive house in Bethesda, Maryland.  He found that the increased cost for the home he’s building is about 8%.  For a 90% reduction in monthly energy bills I’d say it’s worth it.  A certified passive house uses less than 1.4 kWh per square foot in heating and cooling energy and uses less than 11kWh per square foot for all energy!  By the way,  existing homes can be retrofitted to meet many passive home standards.

Barbara Landau and her family are building a second home in Vermont.  A Passive House–in Vermont–with no furnace.  When several insurance companies asked what kind of heating system the house would have and were told NONE, they declined to insure the house, thinking the pipes would freeze.  They won’t.  This excellent NY Times article chronicles their story.

The passive house movement was started when conversations between two German professors at the Institute of Housing and the Environment led to the first passive houses being built in Germany in 1990. To date it is estimated that 15 to 20 thousand passive buildings have been built worldwide, mostly in Germany and Scandinavian countries.  The US numbers are far, far fewer.  Remember, the movement here is still a nursing baby, but one that is being nurtured by it’s German parent.

This map represents the Passive projects currently underway in the United States today.  The squares have been certified, the circles pre-certified and the triangles are in the planning stages.  Green represents single family homes, red  education, blue multi-family and gold are retrofits.

Buildings use more than 40 percent of all the energy consumed in the United States.  If builders were to embrace the passive building concept, both the cost of building and the use of nonrenewable energy sources would decline.

 

How Many Light Bulbs Will It Take To Change The World

While we wait for the government to make up its mind about carbon credits and/or carbon and gas taxes, the easiest and fastest thing we can do to cut our personal carbon emissions and save money is to change every single light bulb we use to CFLs.  I’m sure there’s no one reading this blog hasn’t already heard this.  I’m going to attempt to debunk some of the excuses I’ve heard for why people aren’t changing their bulbs.

But before I do that,  I’d like to note that since buildings consume 40 percent of all the energy used in the U.S and 70 percent of all the electricity, it is imperative that those of us who daily contribute to this astonishing number take some responsibility for reducing it.  The first place that we all have control of is our homes.  Another astonishing number that I would like to sear into your brain is that the 300+ million people in the United States consume fully 25 percent of all the energy in the world!

There is no doubt that governnments will have to step in to do the heavy lifting.  Some state governments are taking the lead.  Californians for instance, because of policies put in place by the state, currently produce less than half of the green house emissions of their fellow Americans.  California’s per capita electricity consumption has stayed flat for the last thirty years while the rest of the country has doubled it’s consumption, according to research from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the nation’s most important environmental advocacy organizations.

So to address the “why I haven’t changed my light bulb” excuses:

1.    They’re too expensive.

CFLs do cost more than incandescent bulbs. But, they last for up to 10,000 hours.  So you’ll replace them every few years, not every few months.  Besides that, prices have come way down especially if you purchase them in the big box stores like Home Depot.  A four pack of  14watt bulbs (the equivalent of a 60 watt incandescent bulb) is only $5.85.

2.   What about the mercury?

“An average CFL contains 4 milligrams of mercury. That tiny quantity of mercury — essential for the energy efficiency of CFLs — is about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen and is far less than the mercury inside other common household objects. For example, watch batteries have 5 times the mercury and older thermometers have 500 milligrams, equal to 125 CFLs.” (NRDC website) Home Depot has a recycling program for CFLs .  Also check with your city or county since they may have a recycling program for CFLs as well.

3.   What if I break one?

CFL’s last so long that there’s less chance of breaking one.  Read more about CFLs and what to do if you break one.

4.   I don’t like the light from CFLs.

It’s true the light is different in CFLs .  So you’ll probably have to adjust your expectations.  This isn’t much different than when we change anything  in our lives to something we’re not used to.  Here is an interesting article about one homeowner’s experience as she made the switch from incandescents to CFLs.

When you’re ready to buy or sell a home, call me, your going green real estate advisor.

Gayle Fleming, Keller William Realty

 www.goinggreenhomesva.com              gayle@goinggreenhomesva.com        703-6251-358   

Follow me on Twitter@ecogayle

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