If you’re considering building a new custom home, there has never been a better time to take the benefits of passive home construction to heart. Climate change, rising energy costs and a greater awareness of our impact on the earth leads us to question our traditional methods of home construction. For those striving to reduce energy costs, and their carbon footprint, passive home construction is becoming increasingly attractive – and viable.
The inventory of passive-certified homes is growing in the US [Fig 1], with certifications more than doubling in 2017 over the previous year. By the end of 2017 more than 1500 families experience the benefits of passive homes. Areas in the Northwest and California lead the way in passive home construction. California’s plan to make new residential buildings zero-net energy (ZNE) by 2020, has lead to the drafting of some of North America’s most ambitious stretch codes (CALGreen) and building codes (Title 24). Zero-net energy is achieved through passive heating and cooling, a key pillar of passive home construction.
Passive house design isn’t a new concept. In fact, it’s been widely embraced in Europe where advances in building technologies are continuously spurned by the high cost of energy. In the US, these rising costs are also causing homeowners to question energy expenditures.
A home built to passive house standards will consume 86 percent less energy for heating and 46 percent less for cooling compared with other code-compliant buildings in the same climate.
Energy consumption is so low in a passive that the homeowners no longer have to worry about increasing energy prices. The house, especially when brought to ZNE is practically independent of outside energy sources.
In passive homes, climate-damaging emissions are reduced by a factor of 4 when compared with “normal” new buildings. Plus, sustainable materials and construction techniques also contribute to environmental responsibility and stewardship.
Many builders argue that higher costs required in the construction phase (and subsequently added to the ticket price) make cost an obstacle to potential buyers. What these builders and buyers may not fully understand, is that these construction costs are quickly offset by lower operating costs. Plus, against popular conception, not all passive homes need to look like a box or an eccentric “Earthship.”
You’ll find many sources that claim to build a passive house will typically set you back 10 to 15 percent more in upfront costs. But you’ll quickly recoup that initial outlay in lower utility bills, in a home that uses up to 90 percent less energy.
Here’s a great explanation on how the math works from GreenBuildingAdvisor.com: “Passive House walls and windows cost more than code construction, while Passive House heating systems cost less. On balance, Passive House construction costs up to 10 percent more than code. (Costs for land, carrying and marketing remain unchanged.) Upon completion, Passive House buildings require an average of 90 percent less heating energy than code buildings.
Amortize the one-time construction premium over the life of a mortgage, subtract the annual savings on utility bills, and most Passive House owners save money every single year.”
However, if you include operating costs in the equation, a passive home emerges as a potentially more affordable way to build a custom home in the first place.
More recent analysis of a building a PHI-certified passive house in Germany showed a passive house to cost less than 5 percent in 2015 with the potential to lower the extra investment even more over the next few years as material cost and technologies continue to shift.
Certified passive homes are held to an exacting performance standard – not an aesthetic one. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and your custom passive home can embody your own personal tastes and style. Passive homes can be modern or traditional, depending on your preference.
Two passive building design/construction standards are available in the North American market: The PHIUS+2015 Passive building Standard certified through the Passive House Institute US and the Passivhaus Standard certified through the German Passivhaus Institute.
The PHIUS+ tailors and optimizes energy targets for both climate and cost for individual locations. The updated 2018 version is even more specific, taking occupancy and building typology into account, including a focus on getting to ZNE. It provides the climate-specific sweet spot where aggressive energy and carbon reduction overlap with cost-effectiveness. PHIUS+ 2015 certified projects are also qualified through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and are zero-net energy ready.
Clarum uses this PHIUS+2015 model for our climate-specific and cost-optimized guideline for constructing passive homes in California. Taking into account these site-specific metrics allow us to build beautiful, custom passive homes without costly over-investment.
Passive homes are an attainable, responsible and healthier alternative to traditional home building. Find out more about Clarum’s passive home and passive-inspired home process, then give us a call at 650.322.7069 to get started with planning your custom dream home.