A Passive Green House Rises In Oregon

The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the most widely recognized green building certification in the U.S., followed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star rating for new homes. But there’s another major player in green home design and certification with the potential to change the way we live in a big way: Passive House.

The Passive House standard was developed in Germany and has roots in Sweden, Canada and the U.S. Instead of focusing on the sustainability of the materials used in the building and/or energy generated on site–both of which are scored under the LEED system–Passive House goes the Energy Star route of focusing on the energy efficiency of the home, but much more aggressively.

Passive House_Salem, Oregon

image via Sarah Evans

The Passive House standard includes very specific requirements related to energy intensity for heating, cooling and primary energy as well as air tightness, and results in energy use reductions of 90%–a fact that leads James Scott Brew, Primary Architect at the Rocky Mountain Institute, to call it “one of the most aggressive, proven, voluntary approaches to radical energy reduction in the world.” To date, an estimated 25,000 certified Passive Houses have been built, most of them in Germany, Austria and Scandinavia.

Just thirteen Passive Homes are located in the U.S., though the numbers are growing every year, according to a recent article from the New York Times. To help us get a handle on what it takes to build a certified Passive House, we talked with Sarah Evans of Salem, Oregon. Evans and her husband, Stuart Rue, recently completed the first certified new-construction Passive House on the West Coast.

Passive House Kitchen

image via Sarah Evans

EarthTechling (ET): There are many types of green homes. What made you want to build a Passive House?

Sarah Evans: We had not heard of the Passive House concept when we first decided to build a house. We only knew we wanted to do something green, although we had no idea what that might look like. When we started talking with a local green home builder, Bilyeu Homes, they told us about Passive House design, and we were hooked. We like that Passive Houses focus on conservation — and greatly reducing the amount of energy needed to heat or cool the home — rather than just using expensive green technologies and continuing to be wasteful in their energy use. Conservation is a more sensible, and affordable, way to approach green building.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.