Super-efficient “passive house” design scales up to apartment buildings
Highly efficient, tight homes that stay cool in summer and warm in winter with little or no outside energy have been a “thing” in recent years. However, the relatively large up-front investment left this breakthrough as yet another green lifestyle option for the well-heeled. That’s rapidly changing, though, with the opening of large apartment complexes utilizing the German passivhaus approach to design. Portland, Oregon’s smattering of high-end private “passive houses” have now been joined by the The Orchards, an affordable housing complex of 57 apartments:
“Every day I find a new reason to love it,” gushes Georgye Hamlin, whose one-bedroom apartment is as noiseless as a recording studio. “It’s cool, it’s quiet, and I don’t even hear the train. During the heat wave, my girlfriend came over to sleep because it was so cool. Yay for German engineering!”
Cornell University has broken ground on the world’s biggest passive building, a 350-unit apartment house in New York City, where Mayor Bill DeBlasio is laying out an urban vision built around this kind of building:
Last September, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio released a 35-year plan, One City: Built To Last, for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the city’s buildings. The report named Passive House construction as a pathway for achieving the city’s goal of 80 percent reduction. It was the only building standard specifically identified in the report, a fact that made architects, builders and public policy experts take notice. In Europe, where all new construction must comply with “Nearly Zero-Energy Buildings” by 2020, passive building is a best building practice.
The passivhaus approach is centered on creating an airtight envelope, with lots of insulation and triple-glazed windows, so that the buildings use 80% less energy than they otherwise would. The Orchards collects air from vents in all the kitchens and bathrooms, captures the heat remaining in it, and recirculates it with fresh air. The passivhaus approach is not new; it began in the 1990’s in Germany, with widespread adoption around Europe, where hospitals, supermarkets, and factories use the system.