New York's first passive house

For the last two years architect Dennis Wedlick has been redesigning the cave. A cave, Wedlick explains, is the perfect metaphor for building a passive house: “One continuous material provides super insulation with only one energy-leaking opening.”

Just over a month ago, Wedlick raised the frame of his cave-inspired design, a 3-bedroom house on the Hudson, which, when completed, will be New York’s very first passive house. That’s kind of a startling figure, but “there are only about 10 certified passive projects in the entire country,” Wedlick says, “but something like 10,000 in Germany. That really tells you how far behind we are on sustainability.”

The house is being built on land provided by Sciame Development, which has a 65-acre laboratory for exploring sustainable housing. Since achieving passive green certification (as determined by the Passivhaus Institue in Germany) relies more on design than technology, insulation is a key factor. For starters, Wedlick’s house uses 90% less heating energy than the average 3-bedroom home.

Design choices like the cathedral ceiling maximizes solar gain in the winter, windows are triple-paned and coated with thermal break film and a heat recovery ventilator keeps air fresh in all weather. And since the house uses so little electricity to begin with, common renewable energy sources like photovoltaics, wind turbines and thermal heating weren’t used.

The house is scheduled for completion by Labor Day and will go on the market at an estimated $500,000 – $700,000. See more of Wedlick’s designs, like his 6-pointed star house, at his website.