Passive House Design Keeps it Simple

Event: NY Passive House presents: The Hudson Passive Project by Dennis Wedlick & PH 101
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.16.10
Speakers: Dennis Wedlick, AIA — Principal, Dennis Wedlick Architect
Introduction: Ken Levenson, AIA — Assistant Organizer, NY Passive House
Organizer: NY Passive House; Center for Architecture
Sponsor: Dennis Wedlick Architect, LLC

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The Hudson Passive Project.

Digital rendering by Neil Benjamin

Passive house design draws on traditional building methods and common sense, with the intention of drastically reducing energy use while establishing high interior air quality. Ken Levenson, AIA, who practices in Brooklyn and serves as founding director of NY Passive House, a trade organization that promotes the Passive House building energy standard in NY State, explained that “Passive House is about broad objectives,” including health, comfort, energy, affordability, and predictability. The certification program was founded in Germany and is gaining popularity in the U.S., resulting in buildings that boast a 90% reduction in heating loads, according to the Passive House Institute U.S. Two years ago, Dennis Wedlick, AIA, created The Hudson Passive Project, a home that is designed as a variation of a traditional timber frame house. The frame was raised in June and it recently became one of first houses in NY State to achieve Passive House certification.

Wedlick explained that passive homes should be compact and simple in form, like a cardboard coffee cup: the size and shape minimize surface area and heat loss, a sleeve serves as a thermal break, and the act of stacking multiple cups provides extra insulation. In fact, Wedlick added one foot of insulation beneath his passive house — six times more than the typical home. Passive design is more of a philosophy than an exact science, but a blower door test should be conducted to confirm air-tightness. Wedlick emphasized that failure is not the end of the world: “If testing fails, you just size the equipment larger.” Air-tightness might seem counterintuitive to a healthy interior, but it allows the home to maintain a consistent temperature, and a heat recovery ventilator filters the air to keep it fresh.

Levenson noted that NY Passive House is not in competition with other green movements. The point is to “get rid of the bells and whistles and simplify.” An airtight envelope is achieved through bulked-up versions of traditional materials, like triple-paned windows, thicker-than-average insulation, and thermal breaks; energy efficient building systems merely provide a back-up. Wedlick agreed that passive design is not about reinventing the wheel, but rather “using materials that are readily available in a different way.”