Passive Aggressive

Passive House Performance for Single and Multi-Family

In September of 2010, the New York Times featured a Passive House story on the front page of its business section: “Can We Build in a Brighter Shade of Green?,”  by Tom Zeller Jr. The story followed the homeowners' journey as they navigated the Passive House landscape. We hoped this might be the start of a trend.

The energy efficient home serves as a beacon for those serious about curbing greenhouse gases and lessening their environmental footprint. The house continues to demonstrate that even in northern New England, a family can use 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than code-built homes, without giving up comfort and well-being.

Now, in response to the widespread housing crunch and increasing environmental pressures, we are seeing an increase of interest for passive house performance in multi-family developments.

Environmental Impact of Homes and Buildings

Both Bensonwood and sister company, Unity Homes, strive to achieve super-insulated, super-tight houses that often meet and sometimes exceed Passive House standards of airtightness while offering extraordinary durability, quality, comfort, and wellness.

Passive House levels of air infiltration--one of the most important measures of home energy performance after triple-pane windows and insulation--dictate that 0.6 ACH at 50 Pascals of pressure be achieved. Blower door tests on Bensonwood and Unity Homes houses indicate that this extremely low level of air infiltration is possible. Moreover, the two companies offer triple-pane windows that meet stringent Passive House standards and Passive House levels of insulation, at the client’s request.

According to certified Passive House Consultant and Bensonwood’s and Unity’s Building Technology Energy and Sustainability Specialist, Rheannon DeMond:

“Building to Passive House standards, or close to them, will free us from our dependency on fossil fuels much faster than our current energy code approach, which allows states to decide which level of code to enforce.  The technology is available to convert to renewable energy sources in place of fossil fuels, but the combination of reducing energy consumption, so that you need less equipment to produce that energy, is the best sustainable solution.”  

Freedom from fossil fuels is sometimes seen as altruistic, but there are many additional reasons to consider Passive House levels of home performance:

  • Draft-free, thermal comfort
  • Acoustic reduction, noise-free environment
  • Freedom from excessive energy needs
  • Freedom from fossil fuel living
  • Freedom from wasteful living
  • Sexy, performance-based appeal (think Tesla)

In addition, they look to:

  • Support and expand the environmental homebuilding sector
  • Play a role in the energy revolution
  • Become an advocate of zero-energy living
  • Own—and promote the new green revolution in housing
  • Support a (livable) future. Owning their future.
  • Avoid drawing from a dead past

Luckily, solutions need not await future technologies to implement. Off-the-shelf technologies exist today to build Passive Houses that, over time, cost only marginally more than conventional, code-built houses. Moreover, many Passive House studies state that PH homes can be built for the same costs as code-built houses: it just means sacrificing higher-end finishes. And, Passive House benefits and dividends are considerable.

At the end of the day, it’s a matter of priority. For example, some consumers, regardless of income, choose to support organic food production and sustainable farming, spending more in that category and skimping on others. The same holds true with the green home movement. Honest value is what most of us seek, and our value systems are not all alike.

But as more people invest in the green building movement, the costs of ownership could even reach parity with code-built homes.  All that’s needed is the willingness to embrace our better angels and technologies.