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The concept of the passive house, pioneered in Germany, approaches the challenge from a different angle. Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants’ bodies.

Buildings that are certified hermetically sealed may sound suffocating. (To meet the standard, a building must pass a “blow test” showing that it loses minimal air under pressure.) In fact, passive houses have plenty of windows — though far more face south than north — and all can be opened.

The windows have layers of glass and gas, as well as the elaborate seals around the edges. A small, grated duct near the ceiling in the living room brings in clean air. In the basement there is no furnace, but instead what looks like a giant Styrofoam cooler, containing the heat exchanger.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/27/world/europe/27house.html?em

The most passive home would be the subterranean home.
 

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30 years ago, there were several passive homes built in Alberta, Canada. Sort of a house within a house. Heat exchangers play an important part in keeping them liveable.

Many earth sheltered homes have been built and books written about them are available.

The housing industry moves very slowly. Homes continue to be built as if we were at 1975 energy costs.

Four Star homes must meet higher insulation standards and air-tightness is checked by pressurizing the home to measure leaks.

Most, if not all, of the materials used in a passive home are available to everyone right now. There are books written on this subject.
 

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People have always built passive houses. Back in the time when people built their own homes themselves. They might not have had all the science behind them and the houses might not have been as efficient as the ones built now but they knew how to build a place so it is as comfortable as it can be in a particular place and climate.

When we bought our land we spent quite a lot of time considering various factors that were at play - which way the sun travels during different seasons, where does the breeze and shade come from, which spots get flooded and waterlogged after heavy rain and where the mosquitoes might be particularly annoying, etc. Then we designed the house itself to have a specific shape and windows placement that allows the use of the cooling effect of the breeze, the roof overhangs that don't allow the sun inside during the hottest months, etc. Than we decided which trees to cut and trim and which ones leave alone to allow for the natural shade.

Now we have a place with ambient temperature 10-15 deg lower than inside a storage shed which was built without taking all of the above factors under consideration and the additional cost to us was ZERO.

Someone could argue that three foot roof overhangs and a venting cupola present additional cost but considering the reduced rain and sun damage to the outside walls and the shading and venting effect which lowers cost of cooling (or brings it down to zero as in our case) and the ability to catch more rain water - they pay for themselves in a long run.

We use this website a lot: http://www.yourhome.gov.au/technical/fs41.html and believe me, when you read through it - it's like DOH - common sense.

Housing industry is not going to provide anyone with a sustainable home where one can live self sufficiently, after all they've been cranking HVAC guzzlers for decades and doing oh so very well thank you very much.
 

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Anyone interested in energy savings and passive homes might check out rmi.org.

A google search on Amory Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute will bring up the website.

Several years ago, they built a passive house in the Rocky Mountains that is incredible. I am not sure that it had a heating source.

I have been encouraged by some of the progess we have made in energy savings. I was was very encouraged by the acceptance of new conservation ideas when fuel peaked in price recently, even though I enjoy cheap fuel prices. It has been in recent memory that you could often be laughed at for talking about any idea that would save energy.

Of course, energy conservation comes with a price tag. Not everyone has the coin to drop into expensive upgrades, no matter how smart. I fall into this category as well.

Sometimes I wonder what the real value of a new super-cheap tract home really is. You know the type, built quickly in massive subdivisions using wall panels and cheap carpet, and erected in days by conglomerate building firms. Sure, you might be able to buy a cheap home there for $89,000, but what will the energy costs be over time, when compared to an energy efficient home that might cost $10,000 more?

Clove
 

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I have been encouraged by some of the progess we have made in energy savings. I was was very encouraged by the acceptance of new conservation ideas when fuel peaked in price recently, even though I enjoy cheap fuel prices. It has been in recent memory that you could often be laughed at for talking about any idea that would save energy.
...
Clove
...The grasshopper would look at her and laugh. 'Why do you work so hard, dear ant?' he would say. 'Come, rest awhile, listen to my song. Summer is here, the days are long and bright. Why waste the sunshine in labor and toil?...
 

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...The grasshopper would look at her and laugh. 'Why do you work so hard, dear ant?' he would say. 'Come, rest awhile, listen to my song. Summer is here, the days are long and bright. Why waste the sunshine in labor and toil?...
Very true!!!!!
 

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It kills me (military, move a lot) to see a new house with no shade trees in a bare field in the mostly Southern areas I move to. We lucked out this time- modern (as opposed to 50 years old 1 bathroom home to have the sizable trees around it) house in the woods. "My wife argued over every tree we cut down" said the builder; I bless her still. We use AC a bit later than most (78 instead of 70 F helps also) and stop earlier. Driving into town temps rise 20-30 degrees though that is our shaded house porch versus road temps.
 

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Also we have shaded porches E,W, not South (winter but not summer sun) and 2 stories so can chimney cool air in and up and through evenings at the edge of the cooling season.
 

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A good cheap but effective retrofit is to plant vines on the south side of the house. Put strings up every foot and run them to the overhang. We planted morning glories and scarlet climbing beans one summer. Besides being beautiful it kept the house 10 degrees cooler even with the canner running all day long.
 

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A good draft hood over the kitchen stove makes a lot of difference too. At least you're not ADDING to the problem in the summer. And I'm not talking about the store bough customer grade little toys with charcoal filters - more like a commercial style sheetmetal box (which anyone capable of operating shears and rivet gun can manufacture him/herself or have a tinsmith shop make it) with 8-12" duct pipe straight up through the roof and a wind turbine on top.
 

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A builder in upstate New York was building homes such as you described back in the 1970s or 1980s. The homes he built had the additional insulation and construction costs paid for with the savings from not installing furnaces. The homes he built always passed the blower doors tests with excellent ratings.

I am really hoping to build myself such a home within the next few years. I also hope to add some photovoltaic panels and possibly a wind charger to provide most of the electrical energy.

I think MOST of the builders of today should be ashamed of what they build and call homes. My kids moved into a new home a year ago last October and it is a piece of junk. A realtor said the builder is considered to be an excellent one. Sorry, but I disagree strongly.
 

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I think a lot of builders are builders by default.
 

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My house in the burbs is passive/aggressive, and the ranch house is definitely aggressive!
 

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My house in the burbs is passive/aggressive, and the ranch house is definitely aggressive!
so would 2 cabins in Alaska be bi-polar then? :D

the keep on topic...
i'd like to build an underground home using passive-annual heat storage (http://www.earthshelters.com/sustainable_living.html), which I think was developed by rocky mtn research center (same as rocky mtn institute someone mentioned above?)

hope more energy efficient products become generally available in the US so the price will come down too.

--sgl
 

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It would be interesting to see what kind of insulation they are using.

Also I have looked at heat recovery air exchangers. they are expensive to buy. And they are expensive to operate.

They consume a lot of power, for such a 'passive' home design.

How much power should a home consume and still be called 'passive' system?
 
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