in pursuit of energy efficient minimalism
Back before attempting to run our own design shop, or having to think about things like daycare – one of my hobbies was collecting books. Architecture books, or rather, archi-porn to be exact – those large format, uber trendy coffee table books on [mostly Swiss] architects. While design is still high on our list, I do find I’m looking more and more at historic precedent/manuscripts on the passive solar/energy side.
To that extent, I picked up a few previously well-loved books recently. Mostly revolving around energy/energy efficiency and general passive solar architecture nerdiness. As if my attention span wasn’t already short enough…
Libro #1: Coming in from the cold: Energy-wise housing in Sweden
First up is a rec from Greg La Vardera. Greg and I had a brief debate on Twitter a few months back regarding energy efficiency and Swedish construction and he referenced this book. Since I’m Swedish by name, I decided to look for more info on it, and came across this thinkprogress op-ed by LBNL’s Evan Mills. Mills wrote something that really seemed to parallel with some of our own activities – mainly, how uber efficient buildings perform in other locations…
…I was first entranced by the Swedish view of energy technology and policy in the early 1980s, when asked to do some computer simulation analysis of how super-efficient Swedish homes would perform in US climates. This was to provide background for an important book called “Coming in from the Cold: Energy-wise Housing in Sweden”, published for the German Marshall Fund and the Swedish Council for Building Research and written by international energy analysis guru Lee Schipper, along with Stephen Meyers and Henry Kelley (now Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the US Department of Energy). These homes were off the charts (or below the charts, as the case may be) in terms of their extraordinary energy efficiency – even by today’s U.S. standards …
I’m only a few pages in, but haven’t been able to put it down. Like I said… Nerd!
Libro #2: Shurcliff’s Solar Heated Buildings of North America
Hailing all the way back from 1978, I probably shouldn’t admit this book is older than either of us here at BFC! I was hoping to pick this up when I snagged Shurcliff’s Super Insulated Houses and Double-Envelope Houses , but I’m uber cheap and only recently found a copy for under four bucks. Though there are a number of approaches/designs that seem over the top – there are a plethora of fascinating ideas. And in my endless pursuit to pair my Freiburg experiences with our Passivhaus experiences – I’m finding there are some really great synergies. My only complaint – not enough Zomes!
Libro #3: Libbey-Owens-Ford/Maron Simon’s Your Solar House
This gem hails from 1947, and is mostly a collection of modest, modern passive solar homes. There are a total of 49 in all – All states minus Alaska, and Hawaii – along with an entry for DC (it’s good to see they occasionally get remembered…). This book ended up in my email as a suggestion shortly after our ‘from Bauhaus… to your house’ post. It features a number of smart, compact and well-designed projects that very well could meet Passivhaus today. While ‘thermopane’ (double pane!) windows were the highlight (and inspiration) for the book – it’s amazing how classic some things are. Some of the projects definitely fall in the more passive solar range, but given the location – I think we could easily make them meet Passivhaus.
Take, for instance, this great little project by Harris Armstrong for Mizzou. Front loading the south with decent glass, elongated east-west form, proper shading (and a stunningly modern roof)… Given a few tweaks, this could easily be one of the better looking projects to meet PH in the Midwest!
The book also features a proposal by Lou Kahn’s office, local heroes Paul Thiry and Pietro Belluschi… It would be interesting to see an undertaking like this attempted today… Anyone think Guardian or GlasTroesch would be up for backing it?
A few others are on the way, but I probably won’t have time to delve into them as the summer switch has finally been flipped on here in Seattle. Any others we should be aware of, please send ‘em our way! Also, I think I’ve finally figured out how to do a nice, modern Passivhaus with no insulation (sort of…). If anyone in the Denver or Salt Lake area is interested in building a comfortable, stunning gem – give us a call.
If you follow this blog, you probably know about the American Passive House Network (aphn) as we did a brief writeup in January. APHN kicked out it’s first newsletter the other week (authored by yours truly) and so in order to simplify my blog duties, I’ll probably start incorporating info from the newsletter into our ‘across my desk’ series – at least on the Passivhaus side of things. In any case, if interested in catching up on the regional and international PH scenes – might be a decent place to start.
Living Building Capitulation?
While there are some aspects of LBC that make my head explode, we were intrigued to see how the Oregon Sustainability Center was proceeding. I hadn’t heard any news for quite some time, but the DJC ran an article a few weeks ago that funding has become a massive hurdle and the project may not get out of the ground. $62M for a 130k SF ($476/sf) office just seems exorbitant to me, and I have had similar qualms about the Bullitt Foundation. These cost failures of LBC, along with the seeming lack of quality control when it comes to the envelope of other LBC projects might be an open door for the high quality/low PV needs of a passivhaus…
CLT meets Seattle
My colleague Joe Mayo had a nice Cross Laminated Timber mock-up for the Wood Solutions Fair last week (btw, how was this not on my radar?!?). The only thing missing were the sweet Heco screws for installing exterior insulation over massivholz. Though it was great to see incorporation of the Cascadia Clip fiberglass rainscreen spacers instead. Joe is currently prepping an exhibit at AIA Seattle, titled “Timbercity: Innovative Multi-Story Wood Architecture” which will be open from today, March 20, through April 27th. Worth it.
Open Source Wood Towers
Continuing on the wood theme, I was uber excited to read on Treehugger that Michael Green of mgb Architecture & Design (authors of probably one of the best small buildings ever) released a nearly 250 page report w/ Equilibrium Consulting on wood/concrete hybrid towers. Titled, The Case for Tall Wood Buildings, it’s a lengthy but great read (pdf). The authors took an innovative approach and open sourced it under a creative commons license. It’s important to see this kind of dedication, which will hopefully lead to wider adoption (and certainly something we like seeing within the PH community). Hmmm… This, paired with Passivhaus equals ubergreen goodness. Michael Green’s TEDx video is also required viewing (youtube) and I also read today that Green recently split from mgb to form michael green architects. Yeah, if we weren’t getting busy… half-tempted to ship off the resume.
Yet another DELICIOUS wooden fire station by the rock stars at dietrich|untertrifaller. This one is located in the Vorarlberg town of Thal. This how it should be done, Seattle-ites – high design meets prefab meets high efficiency. Just look at all that (externally shaded) glass! More pics at archdaily.
Treehugger sporting new Birdhouses
A couple of nice bird houses were featured on Treehugger for national bird week. These are in addition to the ones we previously covered. If I ever find the time, it’d be nice to work on a few of these.
Speaking of Houses for Birds…
The origami coop may be the most phenomenal chicken coop I’ve ever seen. High design, folded steel mesh, bespoke pivot doors – chickens never had it so good. We know a few folks with coops – and have toyed with the idea of fab’ing one… This certainly doesn’t help – great job Mr. Mullaney! More info & photos on archdaily.
Hammer & Hand Interview
After having a great discussion w/ Sam Hagerman at the Portland PHnw conference a few weeks ago (mostly about good bars in our neck of the woods) – we were pleasantly surprised to see he got some much deserved press in Jetson Green. Hammer & Hand is building the Karuna House (a Passivhaus/LEED Molybdenum/Minergie-Eco juggernaut) which we have deduced will be the best looking Passivhaus in the the States (low bar, for now). The take away quote? “Alternative energy is expensive, insulation is cheap” – more at Jetson Green.
Cohen gets Cornered!
Adam Cohen, who recently confirmed the C.E.E.D. PH in Roanoke performed better than modeled over last year, recently sat down for a recorded interview with Gene Marrano. Towards the end is where it gets really good, as Cohen waxes poetic on a favorite subject of ours – how Passivhaus and commercial/institutional buildings are a match made in economic heaven.
Checking in on Lafayette
Low Carbon Productions recently interviewed architect/builder/owner of the Lafayette (LA) Passivhaus, Corey Saft. Some B.S. issues (that is, Building Science) had to be addressed post construction with the addition of a dehumidifier, but Saft states, “the house has had no issues with cooking odors, mold, or mustiness. The ventilation is always on, and the occupants open the high north-facing windows quite a bit. The overall living quality has been excellent.”
PH + NZ = KiwiHaus?
The first passivhaus is presently underway in New Zealand, and ain’t looking too shabby with a nice, simple form. A brief write up at ArchitectureNow, and you should follow the construction blog here.
Lastly, we’re working on two small DADUs here at BFC. One might be able to be all-electric, and we’ve been contemplating the Stiebel Eltron electric tankless water heaters due to the minimal space requirements and low water consumption. I’ve heard a few good things, but the amperage on these things seems really high – feel free to drop any experience/thoughts you have on them. – Thanks, BFC.
Incredible how time slips away when things pick up again. Speaking of time slipping away – space.city recently posted a run of Gary Hustwit’s Urbanized at the NW Film Forum. Additionally, the 16th Passivhaus Conference is fast approaching – mark your calendars for 04/05 May 2012.
After oggling the terrifically fetishistic diagrams and incredible work of OMA-alum and Danish phenom BIG for years, and really digging their concept of ‘hedonistic sustainability’ espoused in Bjarke’s TED talk – I was slightly disappointed to see BIG’s Amagerforbrænding incinerator was scrapped. Though, upon the realization it would have increased CO2 emissions by 30% – maybe not such a bad idea. Ack, so much for the sustainable part. Wisely, Copenhagen will be looking for better ways to recycle and deal with waste.
EGG WARMING 101
Every year, I see the Warming Huts competition call for entries, and every year I forget to really focus on it. This year’s winners include an entry that’s a terrible riff on Gehry – oh wait, that entry is Gehry? Ahhh… Well anyway, the Polar Hen by Czech firm mjölk architekti is definitely worth checking out – as is their website which features some terrific projects.
A really interesting post over on the facades confidential blog, regarding what may be the first true curtain wall, built on the 1903 east block of the Margarete Steiff AG factory. Featuring a double-skin facade – this is a phenomenal little project that I can’t believe is nearly 110 years old. Completely glazed w/ ‘milch-glas’ – the shot of the interior appears to need little in the way of lighting. Ah, and of course this would be built and designed by Germans. Eat your heart out, Gropius!
OLS architects recently posted a youtube video of a smoke test for an ENERPHIT retrofit underway. Some rather interesting details and set to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor Op. 125 – you really have to be out there to geek out on this as much as I do…
PASSIVHAUS + COMPOSTING TOILETS
We’re putting together a project and are contemplating utilizing a composting toilet. While that will help us reduce our water usage, it does provide a bit of a conundrum for Passivhaus airtightness. A few projects I’ve seen (Passivhaus, no less – Cropthorne) have routed the composting chamber exhaust through the HRV. An interesting trick (way to snag those last BTUs!), but one that doesn’t feel like the best option. I started a thread on the PHNW Google Group, feel free to chime in if you have any thoughts/experience on composting toilets in uber-tight construction.
Another youtube video, this one a modern Passivhaus (mit PV!) literally 500 m due south from the house we lived in Saeffelen (DE) many years ago. The presenter is a little annoying – but the house has some really interesting features – lots of glass, decent light. Another interesting aspect is a koi pond that increases solar gain due to reflection in winter. Rotate it 90 degrees, and it could also be utilized as adiabatic cooling – plus a phenomenal lens. More details on the Passivhaus database.
In order to somewhat better sync our twitter feed links with the BFC blog, we’ll be posting a weekly summation of links to articles/projects that have come across our email/desk/twitter feeds.
NY TIMES PH LOVE
The last few weeks, the New York Times has featured not one, but two articles on Passivhaus. The first, “‘Zero-Energy’ Construction Crosses the Ocean,” discusses Passivhaus and briefly features the 96 St. Marks Street development underway in Brooklyn (the hot-bed of North American Passivhaus!). The money quote comes from Brendan Aguayo, the developer, “I anticipate that our next retrofit will be considerably less in costs and time, now that we’ve worked out some of the kinks and come up with ways of doing a few things differently.” Definitely agree… Also, respect to NYPH, who garnered a shoutout in the article and seem to be keeping up the momentum. I’d say we’re jealous – but we’re planning on overtaking you soon, even without the quick hops from Europe.
The second,”A Sustainable Home Lives Up to Its Name,” features a recently completed architect-designed Passivhaus residence in Scotland. The project doesn’t feel cramped for a Passivhaus, features ample daylighting and some really nice touches. Also loving the long galley kitchen! While definitely not a low-end house, the operational savings are highlighted, and the owner (like us) believes this is where new construction is headed. The money quote:
Last Christmas, when the temperature was 3 degrees Fahrenheit, “we had to open the doors to cool down — it was too hot,” he said. “The house is even more efficient than we anticipated, which really is a nice problem to have.”
Also, h/t to Ken for pointing out what wasn’t discussed in either Passivhaus article!
ONION FLATS WINS PH DEVELOPMENT
Onion Flats, who was in town a few years ago for a great lecture series put on by space.city, has won one of the most progressive projects we’ve seen here in the states – a 126 unit Net Zero mixed-use development (Passivhaus + PV) in Philly. Their work has been consistently great – and Tim McDonald is the only lecturer I’ve seen in nearly 15 years that actually mentioned Passivhaus, so kudos to them for being way ahead of the curve. The project will also feature a fair amount of prefabrication, so it will be exciting to see this pulled off. The announcement can be seen here, and Inhabitat has a decent project background. Their proposal can be seen here (pdf)
CAES CASE STUDY
Recently posted on the betterbricks blog, the Center for Advanced Energy Studies would have been a great project for incorporating Passivhaus. The space heating demand is over 11x the limit for a Passivhaus, so while it is a LEED Gold project, this is potentially a great example of the synergies of LEED and Passivhaus. We’re working on a post to break that down a little further. The project is a laboratory, so there are additional ventilation and plug load issues – which we probably won’t dwell on too much.
VORARLBERG PH DEVELOPMENT
Similar to the Onion Flats development, a new 69,950 sf 100-unit Passivhaus development in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg recently broke ground. This is expected to be the largest PH residential development in Vorarlberg, and at €16M, has a fairly aggressive pricetag for a non-profit housing development. Interestingly, the project will feature a nice mix of rental units, lease-purchase and condo options. The project is a collaboration between Dorner\Matt and Dietrich|Untertrifaller. Should be a beaut. Slated for completion by the end of 2012. Project images via Dorner\Matt.
DUST BEFORE TAPING
The gang over at foursevenfive brought up an interesting topic on their blog recently – clean your sills before taping! Dust ain’t airtight, so be sure to adhere to a clean and properly prepped surface!
GARY SWENSON RETIRING
Build llc had a terrific write-up on the career of local engineering hero Gary Swenson, which has spanned the last 50± years. His retirement certainly leaves an interesting hole in the structural community. Great piece, guys!
Lastly, there has been a lot of talk about mechanical rooms in high performance buildings. While we’re all for maximizing the space within the plans – it’s a good idea to be sure the mechanical room is large enough for housing and servicing the mechanical equipment. That being said, this is what a Passivhaus mechanical room looks like…
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