Dennis Wedlick, an accomplished architect and author of five books on home design, has always been concerned about the use of energy in his buildings, as well as many other aspects. He has been designing energy efficient homes since before he founded his firm in Hudson, NY in 1992. His houses often exceeded Energy STAR requirements, which make them at least 30% better than code built houses. His approach had been to focus on design and energy efficiency – better materials and equipment. The homes were stunning but the energy results were not as spectacular. He felt he could do more with his talents.
So where did the idea to build NY’s first Passive House come from? Dennis attended a conference in the summer of 2008. There was a lot of talk by people who had lived through the last depression in the 70’s. They all had said they used that time to take on research and development projects to try to define who we were. Dennis said to his partner, “What I would like to try is to find out, as architects, what kind of building we could build to make a difference in the energy usage? I said I’d like to make a zero energy or a near zero energy house. I’d like to do it without a lot of bells and whistles.”
In September 2008 Dennis decided to invest some time in researching just what was involved to build a near zero energy house. Of course he also required that his houses would not end up looking like concrete bunkers. He went on to say, “I’d heard about Passive House. I researched it and the more I got into it the more I realized that there was no sense in trying to invent something. That this was it.” After nearly a year he had a rough plan and presented it to NYSERDA seeking a little help with the energy engineering. They agreed to provide a building scientist for the project.
In July 2009 they started to look for a builder and a site. They were looking for someone who was willing to build a new type of house – a house without a central heating system. This was harder than expected and the team went down several dead ends. Eight months later, Dennis came to an agreement with Bill Stratton Building Company; they would build the house on spec. I was shocked, why would a builder build a type of house never built in NYS without a buyer? Dennis wasn’t surprised, he said, “Most Passive Houses in the U.S. are built on spec; in down times builders want to improve their skills. They want to show they can go to the next level. They want to do something interesting, so I didn’t find that surprising at all.”
The last item needed was an appropriate site. In April 2010, they settled on a beautiful site being developed by Sciame Development Inc in their Claverack Homesteads, a conservation subdivision.
Ground was broken in May 2010, the massive arched frame was raised in June, and construction of this 1650 square foot Passive House was finished in December. The final Passive House certification was awarded in February 2011??? – the first in New York State. Here is a summary of the key components used in its construction:
- Slab foundation, 12” EPS foam, R-60
- Walls and roof, Vermont Timber Frames SIPs, R-50+
- Windows, Serious Windows, R-6, south SHGC .56, west SHGC .3
- Roof windows, Fakro, R-5, SHGC .3
- Heat Ventilation Recovery, Zehnder, Efficiency 92%
- Ductless heat pumps, Mitsubishi (2) units total 24,500 BTUs, SEER 23 & 26
- Baseboard heater, Cadet (3) 36” units total 2,250 watts
- Water heater, Stiebel Eltron electric tankless, Efficiency 99%
- Appliances, Energy Star or equal
The aesthetic results are stunning. Please take a look at the pictures in the gallery below. The energy results are just as breathtaking. One of the key requirements of a Passive House is low infiltration. When completed the house (Hudson Passive Project) set an infiltration record, just 0.149 ACH at 50 Pascals. Another requirement is low energy usage. This house will use 80-90% less energy than a typical code built house. There are few “bells & whistles” or as Dennis points out, “It’s not the technology. It’s the architecture.”
Another result of the project is Dennis’ determination to work on educating builders and the general public. “There is a lot of this story to tell and I’ve got a day job. We are trying to tell the story as quickly as we can. But, telling needs practice because a lot of people put a lot of time into different approaches and this flies in the face of all that.” One of his first efforts was to write The > Good House (The Greater Good House), a short graphic summary of the advantages of the Passive House. This beautiful 10 page “newspaper” can be seen below in our Resources section, in a .pdf format that facilitates viewing online.
Clearly the main focus of the Passive House is to minimize total energy for the whole house. It can use the sun, but the sun is only one tool in the tool kit that emphasizes energy conservation. A Passive House is just as appropriate on a city street that has limited access to the sun as it is in a country setting – and it will still use just 10-20% of an equivalent house’s energy.
Another focus is to do it passively – without a lot of complicated technology that is expensive and needs to be maintained and replaced over time. As a matter of fact, it is the cost savings on not having to buy a central heating system, photovoltaic panels, and solar water heating tubes that help make the Passive House cost effective. The Hudson House Project cost just 10% more than a comparably built custom home. Work is being done to evaluate the cost difference between a typical code built development home and an equivalent Passive House; it is not expected to be much of a premium for a 80-90% reduction in your utility bill for the next hundred years!
So what is architect, Dennis Wedlick’s next energy project? Dennis says, "Our next energy projects are all off springs of the Hudson Passive Project We are studying designs for residential and commercial projects using the same Passive House Standards such as a multi-family renovation in Hudson New York and a new office building in Kinderhook, New York."
Dennis Wedlick is the founding partner of Dennis Wedlick Architect LLC with one office in Hudson, NY and another in Manhattan. Contact info is 212.625.9222, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Gibson is the Reporter and Chief Coordinator of Our Energy Independence Community (www.OEIC.us). Previously he was a participating contractor in NYSERDA’s Home Performance program and a rater in the New York ENERGY STAR Home program. He is currently building a 100% Solar Home. He can be reached at DanG@OEIC.us