Forget confusing gadgets and robotic accessories. The “smart house” that’s changing the way homes are built is one that’s energy efficient. Called “passive homes,” these spaces utilize solar panels, on-demand hot water heaters, superinsulation and moisture barriers to cut their energy use, and cutting your monthly utility bills drastically.
The Building and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston (BRAGB) is seeing more and more passive homes being built in the Boston area. Nick Falkoff, owner of Auburndale Builders and a BRAGB member, is currently constructing a 4,500-square-foot luxury passive home in Wayland.
“Passive housing has been operational in Europe for over 25 years, and is becoming a serious consideration for people concerned about climate change, energy conservation and health in the U.S.,” says Falkoff, whose Wayland project, which will be completed in November, will feature an open concept layout, vaulted ceilings, oversized windows and seamless door frames.
First coined in Germany in 1991, a passive house doesn’t require a hot water heater to keep showers and faucets producing piping hot water. Instead, necessities like hot water are available “on demand.” Instead of holding hot water in the pipes, an on-demand or “tankless” hot water heater doesn’t turn on until you turn the faucet. The system pulls cold water through a pipe to a heating unit, and sends it to the tap or shower.
Plummeting heating and cooling bills is the biggest incentive for those considering building a passive home. With triple pane windows and double insulation, the home is keeping cold air out in the winter and constantly pumping fresh air in during the warm weather. Still, building one is still an expensive task. However, advocates say the benefits outweigh the higher costs.
“There is a difference in cost building a passive house, but the difference is typically offset by the return on investment,” says Falkoff. “Many factors need to be taken into consideration when determining savings to the consumer, one of the least discussed benefits are health. Living in an environment where the air is always fresh and dust-free adds a level of benefit that is difficult to measure.”
BRAGB’s CEO, Lorraine DeVaux, says green building will only become more prominent with time.
“As the tremendous benefits of green building become more prominent and accessible, the demand for more efficient homes continues to grow,” says DeVaux. “Passive and energy-efficient construction is a natural evolution of this, and represents the future of the home building industry.”
A look at passive home features:
1. Insulation: At least twice as thick as today’s code requires.
2. Air leakages: No holes of any kind. Windows and doors are made with triple-pane glass. While they can be opened, that isn’t necessary in order to get fresh air.
3. No thermal bridges: No way for the warmth inside the house to get outside.
4. Face the south: All homes face south to optimize sunlight and external shading.
5. Fresh air: Through using an energy recovery ventilation system, fresh air is constantly pumped in, even with the windows closed.