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Passive Design in Residential Architecture

Moving Towards a High Performance Architecture

In architecture school, the only studio class we had beyond design and theory was given by a sandal-clad professor reacting to the 1970’s energy crisis.  Norbert Lechner had a passion for passive solar design. He had a goal to develop students’ studio designs with solar orientation in mind. He assigned each of his students to create an adjustable stand for use in the college sun simulation model.

Unfortunately, our passive solar education stopped after one quarter. However, a seed had been planted to understand the importance of how the building and its design should adapt to the location and orientation of the site.

Passive House

When “old school” passive solar house dwellers, Mr. and Mrs. Day, decided to transplant themselves from Montana to Big Canoe, Georgia, Jones Pierce was given a unique opportunity to design a passive house for the south. The Day’s have lived in a passive-solar super-insulated home since the early 80’s. They have enjoyed $50 energy bills in a very hard winter environment and hoped to continue this lifestyle.

The first step to designing this home was to understand how to provide passive design concepts in the southern climate. Important things to account for in southern climate include humidity, dew point location, sun angles, etc. Therefore, we selected the Passive House over the passive solar strategy for the home, because the focus is on insulation, mechanical systems and heat gain from the sun when desirable.

The passive house focuses on the following concepts:

  1. A Super Insulated Envelope

  2. Thermal Bridge-Free Detailing

  3. Air-Tight Envelope

  4. Advanced Windows & Doors

  5. Energy Recovery Ventilation (a constant ventilation system instead of a conventional HVAC system that consumes lots of energy)

  6. Efficient Systems (water heaters, appliances, etc.)

As described on the Passive House alliance website, The Passive House is a quantifiable performance standard applied to any building project. It produces radically less energy usage (80% less than conventional buildings), unparalleled comfort, and supreme air quality. Through the design, the home operates in a balanced state and only uses heating and cooling at extreme peak temperatures. As a result, this drastically reduces energy consumption.

The Team

We worked on our first passive house with the help of our Passive House Consultant, Jeff Dinkle. Jeff provided an energy model of our design to assist in prescribing insulation, air tightness, mechanical design and window specifications. This insured that the Day residence will perform to Passive House Criteria.  Also on our team is the forward thinking contractor, Dan DeJiacomo. Dan has worked with us to plan different construction sequences to allow performance testing during construction of the home.  We have learned much through the design process. We are excited to see the Day residence begin construction in February 2013.  Additionally, our plate are 2 other passive homes currently in the design phase, one on Lake Martin, and one on Lake Arrowhead.

What is interesting about Passive House to us?

Pretty houses with real substance.

Our passion is designing beautiful site specific lifetime homes for people in context with the surrounding environment.  Specifically, sustainability has always been one of our 10 principles that we use to create better homes.  Passive House takes prescriptive sustainability to another level backed by pure building science and performance testing.

Science not a check list.

The Passive House design process uses energy modeling of our design and specifications to predict how the design will perform in a particular orientation and climate.  The model returns energy performance data to determine if the house meets Passive House Criteria.  A house designed to meet Passive House Criteria should perform up to 80% better than a typical structure. However, the process is not clouded by a point system checklist offered by LEED for homes and the  EarthCraft program.

Energy modeling provides data for long term decisions.

The Passive House energy model gives us a tool to help our clients make design and material decisions knowing operating cost over time vs. the initial construction cost.

Measured results.

Passive House designs uses a 3rd party passive house RATER to perform testing during construction and at project commissioning.  We can verify for our clients that the high performance building that they paid for performs as designed.

Passive survivability.

What would happen if your house had no power available?  As a result, designing a home for as low energy usage as possible, along with photovoltaic panels, means you could potentially run the house “off the grid” if required by inflated energy cost or by necessity.

Our clients are designing lifetime homes.  Therefore, Passive House is a vehicle that insures our homes will provide a higher return on investment over a lifetime. Check out the completed Passive House here:

J. Bryan Jones AIA, CPHC

Principal of Jones Pierce Inc. An Atlanta based Architectural firm specializing in custom home transformations and custom homes in fun places.

Jones Pierce is pleased to announce that Bryan is now a Certified Passive House Consultant!

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