What a house looks like residence? When it’s calm and peaceful? Full of natural light during the day and good and dark at night for restful sleep? With favorite art on the walls and unwrapped books on their shelves? Some might tell when it smells like fresh cookies (or enchiladas). For New Mexicans, we can feel at home in a double adobe; an unmistakably solid, calm and grounded feeling of an artisan house.
As the co-founder of Santa Fe based B.PUBLIC Prefab, I spend my professional life talking to people about different construction with deeply insulated walls to achieve passive house type performance for building new homes. Given that Passive House is still relatively young in the United States (12 compared to 30 in Germany), very few new customers have ever lived, let alone lived, in a house built on such rigorous energy efficiency principles.
The Passive House system is, it must be admitted, a fairly technical and complicated concept to grasp. The main thing that a lot of people I talk to are interested in knowing is: how are you feeling? Is a house that uses 80% less energy uncomfortable or does it look like a sacrifice? I find myself using my hands, gesturing on Zoom, and relying on metaphors to answer. For example, I’ll ask people if they remember the first time they had radiant floors in the winter and how relaxing it was for their body. What a pleasure to have warm feet and relaxed shoulders! Passive houses are a bit like that, but with the added gift of being so well insulated and comfortable from head to toe that you always feel warm like that, except without heating.
It’s nice to meet clients in New Mexico because I can use Adobe’s experience as a comparison to a passive house in that the passives are incredibly quiet, have deep windows, and feel like home. – totally relaxing within 17 inches. thick walls. New Mexicans also understand right away that items made with craftsmanship, care, and natural materials feel like home and also last like a home should – for generations.
Outside of New Mexico, it gets a little tricky. For those folks in California, for example, I sometimes compare Passive House to things in common with a Tesla: they’re both electric and super quiet. Passive houses are designed to run on electricity only, for indoor health and energy conservation. They are 50% quieter compared to building code, thanks to well-insulated envelopes, combined with high-performance windows.
Dispelling Some Confusion For people in the Southwest who confuse Passive House and Passive Solar, I use one of my favorite work metaphors: the stainless steel thermos. Passive houses are made to be inactive like an insulated thermos. Passive, in the sense that the interior stays warm by retaining heat effortlessly, by design, rather than needing added energy to stay warm.
I understand why there can be confusion. It is difficult to really share all the conveniences and attributes of the passive building system on the page or the computer screen. You must enter a passive house to feel the fullness of its warmth and serenity. It’s comfort surround sound.
More builders are proudly joining New Mexico’s long history of green building with new ways to save the planet. In the process, they always honor how the house should feel for everyone.
Passive house buildings are healthy, comfortable, efficient and less expensive to operate. The passive house design can create any architectural style and type of building, providing a predictable path to a net zero energy, zero carbon building. Science-based design principles and tools optimize both building performance and costs. For more information: www.passivehouseaccelerator.com
Edie Dillman is CEO and co-founder of B.PUBLIC Prefab, a high-performance, component-based construction company that prioritizes energy reduction, carbon positive materials, housing creation and community collaboration. She and her family live in the first certified passive house in Santa Fe. www.bpublicprefab.com.