Thursday, December 30, 2010


After meeting with Adam and reviewing our options over the past couple of months, Steph and I have a set floor plans for our passive house.  At about 1800 sq. ft. we feel like these plans will offer the most efficient layout for our budget; colors, exterior and interior details will come later.

Our next step is a pre-pricing meeting with Rob Leonard, project manager at Structures Design Build.

[A conceptual drawing as viewed from the southeast.]

[The first floor.]

[The second floor.]

[South and north exterior elevations.]

[East and west exterior elevations.]

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


After spending a weekend reviewing the third and fourth set of drawings that Adam gave us last week, we've come to the conclusion that we like all of the bedrooms on the second floor.  I'm glad we gave the bedrooms upstairs a chance, we really liked the plan Adam presented us.

Right now, the first and second floor total just a hair over 1800 sq. ft.  The first floor features a great living/dining area, a kitchen with an island, two closets, a half bath, and a mud/laundry room that accesses the two car garage.  On the second floor, two bedrooms share a full bath, and the master suite includes a walk-in closet and private bath.  I think these plans nailed down what we're looking for.

The plans are almost there, I can feel it.  I think we'll move the master suite around a little and add some more closet space on the first floor, but other than that, I think we'll have the floor plan.

Steph and I are already thinking about our options for the exterior of the house.  We like board and batten siding, but too much of that can look like a cabin.  We like regular horizontal siding, but again, too much of that can look too traditional.  And we like stone, but too much of that can be expensive.  We've got some ideas, but we'll have to see how it turns out.

We may have to revisit our "hopes and dreams" folder and pick out the things we like best.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


A passive house needs to constantly circulate air in order to maintain its internal air temperature and quality.  A passive house pulls air from outside and passing it through pipes, buried below ground, with the use of a mechanical ventilation system, such as a heat recovery (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV); in the winter, air is preheated and in the summer, air is precooled. 

Air inside a passive house also passes through the recovery ventilator.  This air exchange process, which is minimal, maintains a comfortable air temperature all year long.  Because a passive house is essentially a sealed, air tight building; heat from people, pets, appliances and sunlight can impact its internal temperature during the winter months; in most cases, eliminating the need of an additional electrical heating source.

So, what happens when you lose electricity?

In the summer, open your windows; what do you do in your house?

In the winter, light a candle!  That's right, its been proven that the heat output from up to 20 candles, in an average size passive house, can provide enough warmth to stay toasty during the winter.

The video clip below offers an animated explanation of a passive house's mechanical ventilation system.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


We met with Adam and Rob on Monday to review the second set of plans.  The plans featured a second story master bedroom, a separate full bath and open loft space.  On the first floor, the plans included two bedrooms, a full bath, kitchen, laundry room and great living/dining area.  These plans also included a two car garage attached to the west side of the house.

We're making progress, but we still have ideas.  For round three, we'd like to have two floor plans prepared.  For the first, eliminate one bedroom downstairs thus further opening up the first floor and create more of a master "suite" upstairs by adding a walk-in closet and private bath.  We'd like to preserve the loft with the option to create a room out of it later.  For the second plan, we want to move the two bedrooms upstairs with the master suite and eliminate the loft.  Effectively we would be separating the bedrooms completely from the living spaces.  (Anne, if you're reading this, we'll let you know what it looks like when Adam is done.)

Of course there are other minor details we've shared with Adam and Rob, but at this point, it'll just be boring to read about.  If you haven't noticed, I haven't shared any of our drawings.  I'd like to wait until we've wrapped up the design process.  At that point, I'll share each of the preliminary drawings in one post.  I think that will make it easier to see how we reached the final design.

an example

Wendy Rieger, a reporter for an NBC affiliate in Washington DC, featured this passive house currently under construction in Bathesda, MD.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Just got back from the 2010 Green Living and Energy Expo being held at the Roanoke Civic Center; I went over during lunch.  I sat in on Adam's "Cutting Edge Low Energy Construction: Introduction to Passivhaus Design Principles" presentation for the hour I had.

As I listened to Adam talk, I looked around the room for reactions when words like, "air tight, 2-10% more expensive, ~75% more efficient" or "heat it with a candle" were mentioned.  To be honest, the general crowd reaction was "shock."  Some of the faces in the audience said, "wow, really," while only two I noticed translated to, "ha, yeah right."

As the presentation came to a close, Adam opened the floor to questions.  "How much insulation do the walls require," came from one listener and "what does it cost to build a 4400 sq. ft. home," from another.  Adam did a great job delivering the message and addressing the questions for the amount of time he had.  One can only hope others will take the message home and accurately relay it to their friends.  After all, passive house is a complicated concept for most of us American's to understand.

As I complimented Adam, "well done," on my exit, a nice retired couple from Martinsville, VA confronted me after they overheard Adam talk about Steph and I being his client.

They said that they were really interested in building a small, energy efficient home because there son convinced them that electricity rates aren't going down.  I described our current progress and they seemed really excited and interested.  By the end of our conversation, they had the URL for this blog and said they wanted to talk to Adam.

As for the Expo, even though I had to get back to work, I made a quick pass through after the presentation; lots of cool stuff - photovoltaic panels, electric cars, wind turbines, LED lighting, and much more.

Tomorrow's the last day, and don't forget, its FREE!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

local news

Just got a press release from Google Alerts; Adam Cohen, our architect, and Steve Strauss, developer and builder with Strauss Construction Co. will be presenting, "Cutting Edge Low Energy Construction: Introduction to Passivhaus Design Principles" at the 2010 Green Living and Energy Expo this Friday, 12:30PM at the Roanoke Civic Center.  Duncan Adams, reporter for The Roanoke Times, details on Structures Design Build's efforts to spread the word about Passivhaus in this article, "Developer to Discuss Efficiency Concept at Green Living and Energy Expo."

By the way, admission to this event is free.