First Chie Kawahara renovated a house to Passive House standards, then she wrote a book about it.
In 2010 Chie Kawahara and her husband Kurt bought an 88 year old bungalow in Santa Cruz, California. "Transformed in 2012 to Passive House, we preserved the original footprint and beauty of its Arts and Crafts style as we replaced the infrastructure so that it’s now a comfortable and healthy home." Then she wrote a book about it, and I was honored to be asked to write the introduction. The book is out now and available on Amazon in Kindle form now; it will be in paperback shortly. Instead of reviewing the book, Chie and I agreed that it would be best just to publish my introduction here. There is lots more information on the Midori Haus website too.
There are some who say that the Passivhaus or Passive House system is worshipped by a cult of data-obsessed nerds who design boxy buildings with no charm. One critic claimed, “Passivhaus is a single metric ego-driven enterprise that satisfies the architect's need for checking boxes, and the energy nerd's obsession with BTUs, but it fails the occupant.” There are others that say it has become irrelevant; just add solar panels to the roof and net-zero it out.
The story of the Midori house puts paid to these arguments. Passive House is a chapter in a much bigger story, one describing a journey to find and build a warm, comfortable and healthy home that fits into the neighborhood. Passive House gives focus and direction (“system thinking instead of a la carte ordering of features”), but the end result is so much more than just an energy-efficient box.
Passive House consultant Bronwyn Barry has noted that “passive house is a team sport” of architects, engineers and consultants, but the most important member of the team is, in fact, the client. And oh, what a wonderful, glorious client Chie Kawahara appears to have been; she and Kurt know what they want, do their research, fully participate in the process and respect the people they are working with. They are thoughtful, considerate and disciplined. Doing a complex renovation is a challenge and often the cause of marital disruption; Chie and Kurt handle it all with aplomb. Perhaps the book should be subtitled “How to be a client” and handed out by architects before every project.
To many people, houses are nothing more than real estate, a store of financial value. It’s one reason that healthy, green and passive houses are relatively rare; there is not much of a financial return on such an investment. Midori House will deliver other kinds of returns -- comfort, health, resilience, security, and happiness. The investment that the owners made was much greater than just money; it required a big dose of time and intelligence.
The story of Midori house proves that in the end what matters is people, not product; that Passive House is not an end in itself, but a means to an end -- a beautiful, comfortable home that meets the needs and desires of the people inside it. It’s about so much more than just data.