Wednesday, October 27, 2010


As written by Tessa Smith, in the Green and Save article "Passive House vs. Passive Solar House," a Passivhaus is often misrepresented by the term used to describe passive solar houses that "rely on optimal orientation, large thermal masses for the collection of solar energy, and climates with dramatic diurnal swings.

There is a component of optimizing solar gains to a Passivhaus; it shares this in common with the solar movement, but its primary focus is conservation and minimizing of energy demands. The Passivhaus approach yields, in any climate, 75%-90% more efficient structures.  Combine this with the other elements necessary to a Passivhaus, like ample fresh air delivery and high-performing windows, and you end up with a substantially more comfortable, affordable and healthy house."

For more information on this article, visit Green and Save.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Its been a challenge to find time to clear land over the last 8 months, but we're still making progress.

We're gonna have a huge yard by the time we're done; probably 5 of the 20 acres.  We plan to remove a lot of the trees that are smaller than 6-8" in diameter in the yard. The canopies of the larger trees will provide natural shading for the yard during the summer months.

To the north of the house, we'll leave as much growth as possible and only drop select timber to preserve the views of the Peaks of Otter.

This weekend, Steph, her parents (Bob and Frances), the pups and myself went up to the mountain to enjoy the weather and wrap up some maintenance needs on the loader.

[Barley posing beside the loader.]

[Telli, aka. Tellico, gives the tongue for the camera.]

[Steph and her parents enjoying the weather.]

[A view of the current progress.]

[A view from the home site.]

Friday, October 22, 2010


As we all know, climates vary significantly throughout the US.  Regardless of climate differences, several Passivhaus projects have either been completed or are underway nationwide. These projects span a wide range of climate zones: from Minnesota and Vermont on the cold side to Louisiana, North Carolina, and Berkeley, California in warmer climates.

While most of these projects are single-family houses, several other projects include, multifamily housing, schools, a university building, a senior housing facility and building retrofits to Passivehaus standards.

Information and the picture for the post were resourced from TreeHugger.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

net zero

Although achieving "net zero" may not be practical for our budget during construction, simple photovoltaic electric systems can satisfy the everyday electrical demands of a Passivhaus.  Can you imagine producing your own energy thus seperating yourself from the power grid?!

I may stand corrected; however, I believe GO Logic Homes, out of Belfast, Maine, was recently featured on DIY Network's "This New House - Why Passive Houses Rock."  The show featured a recently built 1500 square foot net-zero certified Passivhaus.  The video below showcases the efficient layout of this home.


As mentioned in an earlier post, Steph works for southwest Virginia's NBC affiliate, WSLS Channel 10, as the producer for "Our Blue Ridge."  In an effort to educate southwest Virginia on energy efficient building alternatives for new home construction, Rob, project manager at Structures, explained the Passivhaus building concept on Steph's show today.  It's a breath of fresh air to see our local builder focus their efforts on educating the public rather than building by the masses.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


It takes time to figure out what you want your house to look like. It may be easy for one person to make a decision, but two people may offer challenges

We didn't know much about architectural styles in the beginning. Our initial efforts led us to web sites such as The House Designers and ePlans.  These websites made it a very easy for the both of us to find features we liked in houses; we looked at thousands of pictures.  Fortunately, Steph and I had a lot of the same interests; lots of windows, decorative overhangs, wide exterior trim, open floor plans, built-in shelving, mixed types of exterior materials, stone porch supports, columns, etc.

After further research, we determined that most of the features we liked were offered within Craftsman architecture.  As quoted from, "the Arts and Crafts movement, introduced in 1880, initially celebrated handicrafts and encouraged the use of simple forms and natural building materials.  In the United States, architects began to design houses that combined Arts and Crafts ideas with a fascination for the simple wooden architecture of China and Japan. 

The name 'Craftsman' comes from the title of a popular magazine published by the famous furniture designer, Gustav Stickley, between 1901 and 1916. A true Craftsman house is one that is built according to plans published in Stickley's magazine. But other magazines, pattern books, and mail order house catalogs began to publish plans for houses with Craftsman-like details. Soon the word 'Craftsman' came to mean any house that expressed Arts and Crafts ideals, most especially the simple, economical, and extremely popular Bungalow."

We knew Craftsman architecture was something that we were interested in.  We liked the looks, it fit our needs, and the style continues to appeal to the market nearly a century later.

Monday, October 18, 2010


"What if you could heat a small house with about as much energy as it takes to run a hair dryer-even during a cold winter," reports Vermont Public Radio's Charlotte Albright, in the audio below.

For more information on this article, visit "New Home Uses 'Passive House' Technology."

what it is

As reported and explained by CNN's Jim Boulden, "What is a passive home?," Passivhaus's "can be built anywhere."

an example

As recently posted in the The New York Times, Beyond Fossil Fuels - Can We Build in a Brighter Shade of Green, Passivhaus construction results in "a house that typically uses 90 percent less energy for heating than a conventional house."

Friday, October 15, 2010


How hard is it to build a home?  From a sketch to a front door, is it that simple?

Who considers their surroundings, the mountains they love, and the air that they breathe when they plan to build a home?

We wanted to, but at first we thought that goal was unreachable and a financial challenge.

Growing up, I was always told, "you've got to live within your means," and, "spend your money wisely."  Although its taken years of lessons learned, it finally made sense.  [I can't forget to mention, my wife has made for an excellent financial adviser as well.]

Why waste money on a home you'll spend a fortune to heat, cool, or power 10 years from now?  Energy prices aren't getting cheaper, and energy production, for the most part, is destroying the world we live in.  Maybe its better to invest in a home that will pay us back and ultimately protect the environment we live in.

It's hard to find a builder in a town that your new to.  Although I grew up an hour away from Roanoke, I anticipated difficulties finding a builder that we could trust to build our home.  We set our building budget at $175K-200K and knew we didn't need a huge house.  A simple floor plan and minimal square footage is all we needed; we didn't want wasted space for "stuff."  An efficient layout can make 1250-1500 sq. ft. seem huge, right?

Countless hours behind a computer screen and hundreds of floor plans later we knew we'd have to speak with someone that could design a home for us.  We knew what we wanted and unfortunately my sketches never provided resolution.

We had already purchased the perfect lot; 20 secluded acres, a top an undeveloped mountain, protected by hundreds of acres of uninhabited forest, and accessible via gravel road 2 miles in either direction.  Its perfect and the price made it very affordable.

I jumped the gun initially scheduling multiple site visits with prospective builders before deciding to give it a rest and start over.

Conservation plays a very important role in our lives.  We try our best to educate our loved ones and do what we can to preserve our environment but we never considered any of this as we pursued the home planning process in the beginning.

Stephanie, works for southwest Virginia's local NBC affiliate as the producer for a live afternoon lifestyle TV show,  "Our Blue Ridge."  Rob Leonard, project manager with Structures Design Build, frequents her show providing useful tips on home improvement.  After speaking with Rob and learning more about Structures's design and building process, Steph suggested that we schedule a meeting and see what Structures Design Build could do for us.

Several weeks later, our scheduled meeting with Adam Cohen, co-owner of Structures Design Build, and Rob Leonard introduced us to something new.  An opportunity to design a home that we wanted and home that could offer an opportunity to conserve energy.

Although energy efficiency was at the top of our list, uncertainty got the better part of us.  Adam sent us home, following our meeting, with a recently published book detailing the specifics of the Passivhaus concept.  New to us and new to 99% of the American population, the Passivhaus concept of building an efficient home was a foreign language; literally.  Until recently, less than 20 of approximately 25,000 Passivhaus's built in the world have been built in the United States.  We had some learning to do...

After spending hours researching the worldwide web, reading articles, blogs and books, we meet Adam and Rob on our lot.  I had already translated much of the complicated building specifics and Steph was on board, but we just had to be sure our lot would entertain a home that was dependent on natural heating elements such as sunlight.

Our biggest problem was the directional position of our lot.  Our views of the Peaks of Otter, in Bedford County, lay north.  I knew this presented a problem because a Passivhaus is most efficient with the majority of windows facing south.  Could a Passivhaus work?

Adam and Rob were quick to answer our questions as the sun set to the west.  Steph and I made a decision later that evening; designing and building a Passivhaus made sense - energy efficient, minimalistic, conservation minded...