Did you catch the recent whooper of an article in The New York Times on the reluctant Americanization of the German-borne, uber-efficent Passivhaus building standard? If not and you’re not familiar with this green building method that’s slowly but surely — slowly being the key word here — garnering stateside attention, I recommend checking it out.
Essentially, homes built to gain rigorous Passivhaus certification (the Urbana, Illinois-based Passive House Institute US is the governing organization/official certifier in the States) aren't really focused on eco-friendly building materials, appliances, fixtures, and all the LEED-qualifying bells and whistles found in many green homes. Instead, passive homes are built to be tight (virtually airtight building shells are de rigueur), bright (natural daylight provides both light and warmth), and thick (super-thick insulation is key) so that traditional, energy-guzzling heating and cooling systems are rendered pretty much unnecessary. Passive homes are designed in a decidedly un-sexy algorithmic manner for maximum efficiency and aren’t exactly cheap to build. The translation? They’re not terribly popular in America. Yet.
There are more than 25,000 passive homes currently spread across Europe, particularly in Germany and Scandinavian countries where winters are cold and energy bills are high. In the U.S., there are 13. But as the NYT article — part of the Beyond Fossil Fuel series — relays, more are on their way as a small number of eco-curious homeowners discover that passive homes are ultimately money-saving homes that can ultimately pay for themselves: they use as much as 90 percent less energy on heating and cooling than conventional homes.