A Passive Green House Rises In Oregon

ET: In working with your architect and builder on this project, what was the process and timeline like?

Evans: We first met with our builders in November 2008, and we went through a ten-month process of consulting with them before we broke ground on the project in August 2009. During that process, we spent a lot of time talking about what type of home we wanted to build, what we wanted it to look like (we also consulted a bit with an architect in the beginning to help with room layout and the placement of the home on the lot) , and how we might fit all those elements into a home that met Passive House standards.

Blake Bilyeu, who is a Certified Passive House Consultant, used a software program called Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) to figure out how to make our home design be as energy efficient as possible by calculating performance details on every part of the house (size and placement of windows, room layout, etc.). This intensive planning process determined how well our home would perform before we even started to build it, and made it easier for Blake to determine the effect of any design changes on the home’s energy consumption.

Passive House_Welcome Mat

image via Sarah Evans

ET: Since moving in, what have you noticed about life in a Passive House? Are there any noticeable differences?

Evans: The most noticeable difference is that we have hardly ever used our heat pump since moving in, for either heating or cooling. That includes the times during summer when the temperature drifted toward 100, and the times this fall when overnight temperatures went down into the 30s. The only times we used the heat pump were during the summer when we had a lot of people come over and they warmed up the house, and even then we only used the A/C for brief periods.

We have really noticed how much internal heat we produce — through cooking, doing laundry, or having a large number of people inside — and found that has kept us plenty warm so far during the fall. We also found that we have had to keep an eye on how much we heat the home internally, to make sure we don’t get too hot. During the summer, we opened our windows at night to let in the cool evening air, then shut them back up in the morning, closed the blinds and curtains, and found the house stayed a nice cooler temperature during the heat of the day. The amount we have saved already on heating and cooling needs has been great, and we look forward to seeing the change in our energy bills during the winter, when the heating energy needs are the highest.

More information on the house, located at 16th and Nebraska in Salem, is available online.

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.