Cost to Upgrade to Passive House

Not a big surprise, we received some juicy emails as a result of the front page article in the Olympian and the interview on NPR station KUOW last week.

One listener wrote in to NPR with concerns about justifying the unusually low cost to upgrade to a Passive House. Our illustrious Randy Foster wrote a note back to the listener addressing her concerns:

[Question-Comment from Listener]

Hi KUOW: Really interesting short segment on a new home being constructed in Olympia, WA. I found the information provided by the designer of the home rather remarkable because the cost of construction was said by her to exceed “Code Built” homes by only about 10%. My question: Was she accurate in her statements? I really am having problems with such “news” because it simply does not ring true! Did you preview her story’s content prior to broadcast? Listener

[Response from Randy Foster, founding-owner of The Artisans Group]

Dear Listener,

Thanks so much for posting your questions! Tessa Smith and I own The Artisans Group, the firm that has designed and is building the home you asked about. We really enjoy an open dialogue with people that are interested in what we are doing. We specialize in the design and construction of homes that meet the Passive House standard. A Passive House is more comfortable than a typical home, and heating one requires only 10% of the energy that is used to heat a typical home.

Here is a summary of some real numbers, taken from the construction estimate for another Passive House that is currently under development here at The Artisans Group. The numbers support that a Passive House can be built at a modest increase in the cost of a typical home:

 

I am not surprised to hear that the comments made by Tessa during the program “do not ring true” for you. It is a historical fact that the home building industry has spent many years developing and building “green homes” that utilize expensive and complex systems in an effort to increase the efficiency of a home. Ground-source heat pumps, radiant floors, and other technologies can add substantially to the cost of a home – very much more than the number used for the cost of a typical heating system in the example above. Even worse, mechanical components wear out and fail over time, so their cost is a recurring expense. Part the beauty of a Passive House is its simplicity – an exceptional building envelope requires little or no maintenance to keep it working.

It is important to add that one cannot simply increase their insulation budget, etc. and be assured of creating a super-energy-efficient home that will performs well. A successful Passive House is created by a qualified design and construction team. Energy modeling tools that have taken many years to develop, and which require a considerable amount of study to understand and to implement, are used during the design process. The field team needs to fully understand the details of the design, and testing should be performed while the home is under construction to verify that the structure is performing as required.

Please offer any comments or questions that you may have!

Randy Foster www.artisansgroup.com

Posted on September 28, 2010

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