How Does a Passive House Work?

The basic premise can be summarized in a cup of coffee, says architect Dennis Wedlick.

Energy efficiency and sustainability are not new concepts in homebuilding.  Centuries before the advent of modern A/C, ancient civilizations mastered the art of passive heating and cooling by paying attention to factors such as massing, building orientation, prevailing breezes, window placement, and materials. Visit the ruins of Pompeii today in the heat of August and you’ll find that its atrium homes still feel comfortable inside. 

How do they do it? That’s what New York-based architect Dennis Wedlick sought to find out when he began investigating the principals of passive design and construction. Turning his focus locally, he researched the Iroquois long houses that populated the Hudson Valley long before the arrival of roads and subdivisions. He studied the rigorous building science methodology of the Passive House Institute, which emphasizes energy conservation over renewable energy production. Then he went to school on the one piece of modern technology that makes the passive equation even better -- the energy recovery ventilator (ERV), which maximizes thermal energy while ensuring healthy indoor air quality inside the confines of a tight shell. 

To summarize his findings, Wedlick published a paper, The Good Home Paper, to explain and advocate the benefits of passive design and construction. Then he put his newfound knowledge to the ultimate test, joining forces with builder Bill Stratton to create a spec home that proves the hypothesis.  The Hudson Passive Project, as this prototype is known, uses only one tenth the heating and cooling energy of a conventional stick-built home. How does it work? Wedlick explains the concept in his own words.  It’s as simple as a cup o’ joe.