GENERAL NEW CONSTRUCTION PASSIVE HOUSE INFO
Passive House new construction can consist of any type of construction the designer can get to work within the physical reality of Passive House certification requirements. Generally Passive Houses in the US are stick frame or Sips construction on either a crawl space or concrete slab. The home can be clad in brick, wood, stucco, or other building material. Basically it is a house you can build already, but with a bit more planning, insulation, siting considerations, and attention to details. If you want a home built out of strawbales and your designer can get it to work with the Passive House Planning Package software, you can have a Strawbale Passive House. Same thing if you want an earth sheltered home or a tree house. It doesn’t matter what you want to build the house out of IF (and that is a big IF) your designer can find a way to make it work so that at the end of the day the home meets the Passive House requirements for energy usage and airtightness. The bottom line is Passive House is not a Fad, it is not a house style that will raise eyebrows. Your relatives will not consider you a kook (unless you they already do! 😉
HOW TO GET STARTED
If you have land already, meet with a Certified Passive House Consultant to discuss how you would like to use your property (if you are looking for land, meet with a consultant to ask what would be good characteristics to look for in a property for what you want to build). The direction the house would need to face will be considered as well as its orientation towards the South. Your consultant will explain how, based on your location, the house will react to its environment. Details such as trees and other buildings that would provide shade will be taken into consideration. A wall of south facing windows may have said Passive House in the 1970’s but many of those homes actually overheated. Your consultant will work with you to choose a window arrangement and shading arrangement that will allow your house to maintain a 68deg year round average temperature. In the summer that might depend on opening some windows for night cooling, or even using a small mini-split air conditioner part time if you are in an extremely hot area. In the winter that may mean additional heat, but not to the level you are used to using. You will know before construction starts how your house will be expected to operate.
Once the site is considered, the designer can work with the style of the home to adjust it so that it will be expected to operate to the Passive House standard. This might mean making certain windows smaller or larger, adding insulation, changing the size of the building or its shape so that the outcome will have the physics to operate to the expected Passive House results. This is not always easy. Easy is a 2 story box. Most people want a home. Designers know this and work very hard to give the homeowner what they want. I have seen several Passive Homes where the architect went beyond what was thought possible for a Passive House and provided a fabulous final product that the homeowner loved.
At this point I would like to add what should not happen. You pick a home design, file for permits, then ask for your plan to be built as a Passive House… on a budget… Passive House works best when it is considered from the beginning. A few Passive House projects started as traditional construction and were able to transition to Passive House in the very early stages, but the ideal is to have a clear idea from the beginning.
Once the plans are designed, they will need permitting. If your building department has been involved with a Passive House project before they will understand what the considerations are for the project. If not, they will need to be brought up to speed. This might go quickly or take some time depending on what issues they question. As more Passive House homes are built and building departments have more experience with them this process will go better. Do not be surprised if they require changes that may require additional design changes. Your consultant will be able to explain what your circumstances and options are as things progress. Once permitted construction can begin.