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Bruce Brownell, Passive Solar Pioneer

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Today, Bruce Brownell is awarded the Passive Pioneer Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES). The award is to recognize, as ASES describes, “… one in the passive field who provided the theories, early research efforts, new concepts, and opportunities for later researchers to follow and improve upon. The award is presented to a deserving innovator who was involved in the early stages of the creation and development of significant ideas, theories, and concepts of passive theory, design, application, or technology.”

After earning a degree in Forestry and working in the family lumber business for several years, Bruce decided to build energy efficient passive solar homes in 1964. The idea had come as a boy growing up in the Adirondacks observing nature, specifically how sun warmed the south facing hillsides and sheltered under the needled boughs of larger pines he would be quite pleasantly warm, however cold the day might be. He figured a little building science could improve dramatically on this and he hasn’t stopped tweaking and testing since. Over the years, he has developed hundreds and hundreds of small energy saving techniques and procedures that he incorporates in his Adirondack Alternate Energy homes.

For the last ten years, as energy prices have climbed, the general public and press have been wondering if more energy efficient homes would ever start to sell – that is if home buyers would ever pay a premium for a house that was more energy efficient. I learned when selling my house recently that Real Estate agents do not generally add dollars for energy efficiency, that is they treat this aspect as minor feature – such as, tiled bath, built in appliances, walk-in closet, and energy efficient home. Features that add value to a home, such as number of bedrooms, sexy granite counter tops, and square feet are of a entirely different nature.

So what makes an Adirondack Alternate Energy home different from the conventional home? As explained by Bruce on his website:

  • We design, engineer and market a unique concept incorporating
    proper solar orientation, a superior 6-sided insulation envelope and a large air integrated thermal mass system.
  • Our unique homes can be built in whatever size, shape and style you desire, i.e., contemporary, saltbox, traditional, etc.
  • Insulated and sealed on all six sides with 4" of polyisocyanurate (foam board) yielding a performance level of R38, 7 to 9 times higher than typical new homes.
  • An integral air handling system powered by a small fan gathers air at the peak of the house and pulls it down an airshaft to be delivered, through a grid work of pipes, buried in a heavy (70-100 ton) mass storage system under the lowest floor, and back to the house interior perimeter.
  • Air Quality: Healthy high winter humidity levels of 45-50 % are maintained at all times.  Filtration 3 times per hour of all indoor air eliminates most dusting. Steady temperatures changing only 4 - 6 F. in 24 hours because of mass tempering.
  • Self-regulating system allows owners to leave for any winter months by simply turning the key, the house will never freeze. Excellent for a second home or ski lodge. Retired people enjoy the constant warmth, maintenance free operation and minimal fuel bills.
  • AAE has built over 300 Low Energy Requirement homes across
    30 years in 15 eastern states.

This summary belies the hundreds of details and special considerations employed to deliver the final result – an energy efficient and comfortable home. Homes that over the years they have been operating have made a huge difference; according to Bruce’s calculations they have resulted in:

  • 9,330,000 gallons of oil not used.
  • $78,812,200 spent in the local economy instead of being sent away for oil.
  • $2,489,990 to local taxes.
  • 104,500 tons of CO not emitted.
  • 5,828,970 kWh not consumed and $699,476 not spent on air conditioning.

But still, I think, what is most impressive is that for nearly 40 years Bruce Brownell has been selling and delivering energy efficiency, indoor air quality and comfort as the primary features, along with his design philosophies. Countless conversations, classes and tabling at shows have resulted in 375 home sales; homes that when built, some nearly 40 years ago, were built to standards that far exceed Energy Star requirements today. Now that is pioneering for you! Congratulations Bruce on an award much deserved! See his website at:

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