You read that right, coastal types – we’ve got something new and cool going on here in flyover country. Yesterday, in the St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves, the creators of the first US home built to Active House standards broke ground for construction. Representatives of builders Hibbs Homes and Verdatek Solutions, architect Jeff Day & Associates, and the European Active House Alliance all showed up to don hard hats, turn a little dirt for the cameras, and share this concept for homebuilding.
With the recent spate of deadly tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri, Greensburg, Kansas, the town destroyed by an E5 tornado in May, 2007, has largely fallen out of public view. That’s too bad, as this small western Kansas town has made itself a model of resilience and adaptation… not to mention turning itself into a hub of sustainable development.
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.”
In the last 10 years more than 15,000 buildings in Europe, from single family residences to entire factories, have been built or remodeled to the passive house standard. This means that, among other factors, these structures use 90% less energy, and it’s done, for the most part, by simply better utilizing the natural resources of the surrounding environment. To begin with, a passive house is virtually airtight. It’s also equipped with an energy recovery ventilator that provides a constant, balanced fresh air supply, minimizing energy losses and providing top rate indoor air quality. Furthermore, instead of relying on active systems to bring a building to zero energy, passive houses use natural resources like sunlight, for example, and apply them efficiently.
Buildings that meet the passive house standard are popping up all over the world, but only recently has Japan finally built their very first passive house in Kamakura, a small city 30 miles from Tokyo.