Passive House Rebuild Elements

Now that we have discussed why we are building passive homes in the Marshall Fire community, lets get into the details of what makes a home meet this standard, and how our company’s values have determined what methods we use to achieve it.

Climate, Solar Orientation, and Energy Use

Passive houses take into account site conditions such as orientation of the lot/home in relation to the sun, the local climate, and energy needs of the home. A passive house should use the least amount of external energy inputs as possible, by orienting windows to capture heat during the winter, yet providing sufficient shading in the summer to keep the home cool and comfortable.

Air Sealing and Insulation

Passive House design, with its superior insulation and airtightness, significantly reduces heating and cooling demands in residential buildings. This combination not only reduces energy bills but also enhances indoor comfort and air quality for occupants. Additionally, windows and doors must meet high quality standards, including the use of triple-paned glass, and be designed to have a tight seal when closed. Attention to detail and careful planning are required to meet thermal continuity and air tightness standards.

Passive house modeling for window and wall assembly insulation
Interior Air Quality and Continuous Ventilation

A Passive House will provide a healthier indoor environment when compared to code built new construction by minimizing the use of toxic chemicals and incorporating mechanical ventilation. Each of these homes has a full house ducted ERV ( Energy Recover Ventilator), with intake and/or exhaust vents in each room. The system runs continuously, bringing in fresh filtered air and removing indoor air which may contain VOCs, excess CO2, and other pollutants that are created indoors. The air passes through a central system which exchanges the heat and humidity to maintain the indoor air temperature.

Low Carbon + Passive House

Although the Passive House standard does not currently require it, we are choosing to build with low carbon and carbon sequestering materials as much as we can. In conjunction with implementing Passive House design principles, the choice of building materials plays a crucial role in reducing carbon emissions. Low carbon building materials refer to products that have a lower carbon footprint throughout their lifecycle, from production to disposal. These materials include recycled content, sustainably sourced timber, low-emission concrete, and innovative alternatives like hempcrete.

Building materials that actively sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere further enhance the sustainability of residential construction. For instance, products that not only have a lower embodied carbon footprint compared to traditional construction materials but also lock in carbon during their lifespan. Examples of carbon sequestering materials include straw bale construction, which employs straw as a natural insulating material, cellulose insulation, which is made using recycled newsprint, and denim, hemp or sheep’s wool batt insulation.

In our homes, we are building double stud walls to reduce thermal bridging, and filling this entire cavity with cellulose insulation from recycled newspaper. The attic and rafter framed roofs will also be insulated with cellulose. We do have some EPS foam below grade in the basement of one of the homes. This serves in part to reduce the amount of concrete being used by eliminating a concrete slab floor. The other factors going into the decision are cost, and a decision to use the foam to provide an extra barrier between the living space and the cool concrete basement walls, without having to worry about potential condensation and moisture wicking damaging bio-based insulation.

All Electric

In another effort to minimize our contribution to climate change, these homes will be all electric, using heat pumps for heating and cooling and hot water, as well as electric induction stovetops. Colorado is already promoting all electric housing because this will reduce the consumer use of natural gas. Another benefit to all electric home is that they will have the option to add renewable energy directly (rooftop solar), which can reduce energy bills to zero. Also, as we clean up the power grid more and eliminate petroleum based energy sources, these homes will have a reduced impact on air quality and climate change, even without needing a personal solar power array.

Let’s Build More Passive Homes

Residential construction in the United States is undergoing a significant transformation as Passive House design principles and low carbon building materials start gaining more attention. Follow along with our projects on our Instagram page as we build these homes!

About Passive House Design/Build

Residential construction is undergoing a transformative shift towards energy efficiency and carbon reduction. The Passive House design standard, coupled with low carbon building materials, is at the forefront of this revolution.

Living Craft is building two new homes in the Marshall fire burn area in Louisville, CO to the passive house standard. We have partnered with Shape Architecture, a passive house designer and promoter based in Denver, to design the homes.

History and Principles

Passive House originally began in Germany. It has now become an international standard for constructing energy-efficient buildings that prioritize occupant comfort while minimizing energy consumption. The principles include airtight construction, high-quality insulation, high-performance windows, and a mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery. These elements significantly reduce the need for heating and cooling, resulting in up to 90% less energy consumption compared to conventional buildings. Just like LEED or Living Futures certified buildings, a building must meet certain requirements to become Passive House Certified.

Passive House Model Designed by Shape Architecture for construction in Louisville CO
One of two Passive House Marshall Fire Rebuilds, designed by Shape Architecture

Why We Are Building Passive Houses

With so many energy efficient home standards to choose from, we chose passive house for a number of reasons.

Local Incentive Program for Passive House

Incentives in the form of rebates are being offered by our local energy company for homes in this fire area. The rebates will offset any extra cost involved in making the home live up to the passive house standard, and hopefully provide some cash back to the homeowner.

Operational Energy Use and Comfort

Another reason we wanted to build to this standard is because a passive house should provide energy savings over the long term. The reduced heating and cooling costs and needs make monthly energy bills low. It also will be comfortable, quiet, and healthy for the residents.

Resilient Buildings for Climate Change

Additionally, our clients are concerned about climate change. The Marshall Fire that destroyed their homes was worsened by extreme weather patterns brought about by climate change. Because of that, they are hoping to provide an example of how housing and building in general could be involved in mitigating climate change rather than exacerbating it. That means we have to take into account the reduced energy consumption of the house, and also make smart choices about our design and the materials we use.

Also, simple homes that are airtight are actually more resilient in the face of future fires. Because it is so air tight, a passive house is less likely to have smoke damage after fires nearby. There are also fewer points for embers to gather and ignite with simpler roof lines.

It Takes a Village

Of course, the clients need to be excited about and on board with this process. Shape has the expertise in creating the design to meet the energy standards and the clients needs. Living Craft has four Certified Passive House Tradespeople on our team. This will help to ensure proper on-site implementation of the design elements, which requires a lot of attention to detail. Rounding out the team are BldgTyp, the PH Design Consultant and CertiPHIers, a third party certifier who will review the home design and construction process at completion of the project to make sure we have met the goals of the design.

We are excited to be getting building with these two new Passive Homes in Louisville, CO. Stay tuned for more updates.

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