Monday, February 9, 2009

What makes a passive house a passive home?

On Saturday, Duke Smart Home students hosted Iowa State professor Mikesch Muecke to share his knowledge of sustainable building techniques. Muecke’s presentation focused on passive housing. A passive house can maintain a comfortable indoor climate without relying upon active heating and cooling systems. Specialized designs make this possible, utilizing the natural light and heat of the sun, as well as super-efficient insulation to reduce heating or cooling loss. The Smart Home utilizes some of these techniques in its own design. [ More about passive houses ]

In this way, “architects are responsible for a big chunk of energy use,” Muecke said.

The basic features of a passive home include:
  • compact form and good insulation

  • southern orientation and shade considerations

  • energy-efficient window glazing and frames

  • air-tightness of the building

  • highly efficient heat recovery from exhaust air

  • hot water supply using regenerative energy sources

  • energy-saving household appliances

Passive homes require substantially less energy than their actively heated and cooled counterparts. If a passive home is fitted with solar panels, sometimes it even produces surplus energy that can be fed back into the energy grid. In other words, instead of a homeowner paying the electricity company, it pays them. Not a bad deal.

Muecke also discussed the Solar Decathlon, an international competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy in which students compete to design and build the best energy-efficient, solar powered house. The finished homes are shipped to Washington D.C. and displayed on the National Mall. For a week, the houses are open to the public, and are evaluated by experts in terms of their architecture, market viability, engineering, lightning design, comfort zone, and other criteria.

In 2007, the last year the competition was held, Germany’s Technische Universitat Darmstadt took first place. But come this October, Muecke and his team from Iowa State University have their eye on it. [ Check out Iowa State’s passive home concept ]

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