House construction

Passive house building goes from the groovy niche to the mainstream

Passive house construction – this energy-efficient design invented by the Germans – grew from a niche concept to a mainstream concept in the 10 years after the first passive house was built in Maine.

Designing passive houses “is like organic food,” said Amy Hinkely, of the University of Maine’s architecture program and moderator of an Earth Day panel that discussed the status of the panel’s moderator. “It used to be hippie, but now it’s mainstream.”

“I didn’t expect to see the development and scale of the passive house that has happened over the past 10 to 12 years,” said Matt O’Malia, of OPAL and GO Logic, from Belfast , who designed Maine’s first passive house building, a small dormitory on the campus of Unity College. “At first it was a very marginal thing.”

O’Malia was joined by Chris Briley, director and founder of Briburn, in Portland; Stephen Aiguier, of Green Hammer Design Build, of Portland, Oregon, and Tad Everhart of CertiPHiers Cooperative, also of Portland, Oregon. All four have been involved in the design of passive houses for decades and are considered pioneers in the field, Hinkley said.

The construction of certified passive houses has five requirements: thick insulation, airtight construction, thick and well-placed windows, prevention of moisture migration and a constant supply of fresh air.

Three years ago, there were about half a dozen passive non-single-family homes in Maine. Now institutions, especially schools, are finding that the economy of scale O’Malia talked about turns the long-term benefits of design into an advantage.

Recent projects range from the School of Ecology Under Construction in Saco, to the Oxbow Beer Garden in Oxford, to student apartments in four buildings from Park Row to Bowdoin College.

Image / Zoom screenshot

UMA hosted a roundtable on April 22 on the evolution of passive house construction design.

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Institutional construction of passive houses and the renovation of historic or older buildings are increasingly common, but the design of single-family homes remains the domain of the wealthy. The architects agreed that meeting the strict requirements can cost money.

The panel of architects, all pioneers in passive house design, said the next step is to scale it up so that it is realistic for more homeowners and find ways to innovate. in terms of products or construction.

Briley said it’s important to create demand, even before new innovations are discovered. “We need to ensure that the demand for these projects increases,” he said.

But O’Malia said, at least for now, “I don’t think the market expects it to be scalable, the market expects it to be a higher cost.”

He said that it is easier for large institutional buildings to find ways to make projects affordable and they can scale the construction so that it does not cost more to build than traditional construction.

“You can significantly reduce the costs of mechanical systems,” he said. And this reduction is also accompanied by a significant reduction in energy costs.

Courtesy / Briburn

80 Exchange St. in Portland has been redesigned, in a design by Briburn, Portland, for passive house energy efficiency and air quality standards.

Retrofits, new products, high standards

The panel also agreed that the construction can use a passive house style design and meet many energy efficiency criteria without going through the certification process. Renovations, especially of historic buildings, are increasingly common. While the common view may be that of a state-of-the-art building, a building may appear to have been there for over a century and still meet PH standards.

“Saving old buildings is an incredibly energy efficient thing to do,” Briley said. In addition to saving on energy costs, this has a huge impact on improving air quality, something people are paying more attention to with the pandemic.

Two that Briley’s company designed are the offices of The Nature Conservancy in the 150-year-old Fort Andross factory building in Brunswick, and 80 Exchange St., a three-story mixed-use building in the Old Port of Portland.

O’Malia is also one of the founders of GO Lab, which is renovating the Madison paper mill to make wood fiber insulation, which is more energy efficient in its production and as efficient as insulation. traditional. He said the development of isolation came because of a “conflict of values”. He was designing buildings that were super energy efficient, but with materials developed using a massive amount of carbon.

Panelists said products like Timber HP insulation, which is expected to be available next year, are key to advancing passive house and other energy-efficient designs.

Briley said another challenge is concrete, which is responsible for 7% of carbon production. “But it’s a really hard product to replace.”

As passive house design becomes more mainstream, it’s important to maintain standards, O’Malia said.

Everhart, who along with his brother Garth developed and built over 40 PH homes in Portland, Ore., Now certifies office, high and low-rise, mixed-use, and institutional office, multi-family buildings across North America. . He said, “What we always try to keep in mind is why are we doing this?