While Americans look for ways to make their homes more efficient, European designerscontinue building energy-sealed, so-called passive homes that make our Energy Star appliances look like minimal contributions to the cause. Passive architecture has caught on in the Pacific Northwest and abroad, but its yet to take hold in most of the United States. Have you heard about the passive home trend?
What is Passive Design?
Passive homes are extremely energy-efficient buildings that require no air conditioning or heating systems. They are sealed so tightly that no air can escape the interior of the home, leading to absolutely minimal heat transfer. As a result, the temperature in the home stays extremely comfortable year-round, resulting in a huge decrease in energy expenditure.
So how do builders make this happen? It all starts with very, very thick walls. According to the New York Times, a passive home built in a cold state like Minnesota wouldrequire walls that are up to 18 inches thick. Windows are also paned multiple times and are manufactured with a similar thick design.
Humidity is kept in check and air recycled through ventilators that mix fresh, outside air with inside air. These systems use only minimal energy and keep the air inside the structure feeling fresh and clean.
All of these factors result in huge energy savings, but owners of passive homes will tell you that even the reduced heating bill costs cant match the greatest benefit of living in a climate-controlled environment: comfort.
What matters is that I have never lived in such a comfortable house, Don Freas of Olympia, Washington, told the New York Times.
Why Hasnt the Trend Caught on in the US?
The U.S. is lagging behind other countries when it comes to implementing passive technology. The knowledge of how to build these structures has been around since the 1990s, but because gas and energy remain relatively affordable in the U.S.as opposed to in other countries, where they are much more expensive, incentivizing homeowners to make energy-efficient decisionsAmerican homeowners have been slow to jump on the bandwagon.
Nearly 30,000 of these houses have already been built in Europe, reports the New York Times. In Germany, an entire neighborhood with 5,000 of these super-insulated, low-energy homes is under construction, and the City of Brussels is rewriting its building code to reflect passive standards.
So far in the U.S., only 90 passive homes have been certified. Some builders argue that the reason for slow U.S. growth has been the countrys vastly varying climate. While passive homes are relatively popular in the Pacific Northwest where the climate is mild and comparable to that of Europe, they require different technologies to function in the humid Midwest, cold northern regions and hot Southwest.
If U.S. builders can learn to adapt for the countrys various climates, it could be a boon for the environment. Mother Earth News reports that while an Energy Star-certified home could save energy expenditure by about 20 to 30 perfect, a passive home would increase that efficiency to 90 percent. Well have to see how passive homebuilding stacks up to other energy-saving building practices in the U.S. moving forward.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.
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