Yes, a Passive House can look and feel perfectly normal. But what do buyers really want?
The headline in the local real estate paper says First Internationally Certified Passive House in Texas Hits Market Today in Dallas, and we do love Passive House on TreeHugger, because they save so much energy, they are really comfortable and have great air quality. I recently described wrote that Passivhaus isn't just a standard of energy, it's a standard of luxury, so I am trying to be excited by this new Passive House, designed by Ryall Sheridan Architects of New York City.
It is built on spec by Fagin Partners, so it has to push all the usual speculative buttons such as a two car snout garage sticking out in front and a generous 3,230 square feet. But the builder is proud of the Passive House features:
“The Passive House originated in Germany and results in ultra-low energy usage,” said Connor. “We’ve got 14-inch thick [exterior] walls, an 18-inch thick roof, and even when we have a sharp temperature change outside, it takes about 24 hours for the heating or cooling system to have to turn on inside.”
The house has two air handling systems, one for heating and cooling and a second for "air quality management."
The latter pulls in fresh air, pre-heats or pre-cools it, puts it through a MERV 13 filter to remove impurities, and pumps it into the house. An intelligent energy recovery ventilator works through the return vents to take in stale air and exhaust it outside.
A MERV 13 filter is rated for hospital surgery and takes out "Bacteria, droplet nuclei (sneeze), cooking oil, most smoke and insecticide dust, most face powder, most paint pigments". That might be useful given that there is a big six-burner commercial style gas range with a little hood set way up high on the wall. It is also interesting that an article in Passive House Buildings magazine states that "Ryall Sheridan designed this house to be all electric, avoiding any potential combustion safety issues and the need for gas lines. An electric on-demand tankless water heater will provide the hot water, and an induction cooktop will be used for cooking." When you are building for the spec market you can only go so far, and the luxury market still demands gas over induction.
The house has a 2500 gallon rainwater tank and "three miles of buried tubing create an irrigation soaker system that does not lose water to evaporation. There’s no roll off, which accounts for about 35 percent waste with traditional watering. Since there are no watering restrictions in Dallas for those using harvested water, a lush lawn is a real possibility, even in August."
According to an article in the Dallas News, the house has R-34 walls insulated with cellulose and foam and R-48 cellulose roof, and hit .6 air changes per hour. Nancy Baldwin writes that "With all of these features, it would be easy to expect the house to have the ambience of a spaceship. Yet the 3,230-square-foot, two-story residence is open and inviting."
Of course, there is no reason that a Passive House should have the ambiance of a space ship, no reason it can't look like any other spec house in Dallas, that is sort of the point of the exercise here. In a convoluted sentence it is sort of clear that the listing agent doesn't fully understand what she's selling, either:
In terms of demand for a Passive House, listing agent Vicki White says she’s seen a lot of interest in the home’s features, overall look, and design, particularly when she points out the remarkable measures the builders undertook to create a house that could get international certification.
It will be a lot more comfortable and quieter, too, which is probably a good thing, given that it is a couple of blocks from an airport.
If I have any reservations, they are about the size (too big), the snout double garage connected to the house that is most of the facade, and the dreadful Walkscore. It's why I sometimes complain that it is no longer enough just to be Passive House, that walkability, toxicity (no gas!) and embodied energy matter. But we have to start somewhere.
Again, the builder is doing this on spec without a client and spending the extra money on the Passive House features (they estimate a 10 percent cost premium) is already a risk, so you build what the market expects and demands. Fagin Partners deserve a whole lot of credit for doing this, and for demonstrating that Passive House can be perfectly normal. Good for them.