Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Our closest neighbors- just a pasture away- are two retired teachers, who, when they decided to build a new home, knew they wanted an energy-efficient, no-stress Passive House design. The 1,800-square-foot house is the first Certified Passive House in the San Juan Islands, and only the fourth in the state of Washington. The home was designed by the Olympia-based firm The Artisans Group.  It has a circular floor plan that centers around a prefabricated pod that contains the kitchen and two bathrooms.

The term passive house refers to a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, reducing its ecological footprint.It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling. Passive design is not an attachment or supplement to architectural design, but a design process that is integrated with architectural design.

The Passivhaus standard originated in 1988 by a German builder and a Swedish Professor. Estimates of the number of Passivhaus buildings around the world in late 2008 ranged from 15,000 to 20,000 structures. As of August 2010, there were approximately 25,000 such certified structures of all types in Europe, while in the United States there were only 13, with a few dozen more under construction.The vast majority of passive structures have been built in Germany, Austria and Scandinavia. 

In order to achieve its Passive status, Ned and Elaine's home features an air-sealed exterior shell that provides insulation, efficient windows and doors, and a heat recovery ventilator to keep it warm in the winter. In the summer, careful window placement and shades ensure the space won't overheat.

Storage wall- which are everywhere
Radiating from the pod, cabinetry and a minimum of walls defines functions, with a series of sliding and concealable doors providing flexible privacy. The interior palette consists of wind-fallen light maple floors, locally made FSC certified cabinets, stainless steel hardware and neutral tiles in black, gray and white.

The exterior materials are painted concrete fiberboard lap siding, Ipe wood slats and galvanized metal. Ipe (pronounced “ee-pay”) is a large tropical hardwood tree that grows abundantly throughout Central and South America. Ipe wood is prized for its durability, strength (it is 368% harder then Teak wood), and its natural resistance to decay, wet conditions, and insect infestation.

The kitchen

The home, which sits on a sort of mesa has no formal landscaping. When one looks out the windows, it is as if all the art is nature herself! The doors and windows are on a tilt turn, so can open inward or outward, thus either bringing the weather in or keeping it out!

The home was built for $330 per square foot, while construction costs for residential projects in the San Juan market often exceed $600 per square foot. Passive House measures did not increase this projects’ cost of construction.

Elaine and Ned wanted a low-maintenance, cost-effective, energy-efficient house in which they could age in place and which would be a restful shelter from clutter, stress and over-stimulation.

Dining area- Nature comes in
This home is ten times more efficient than a regular built house. Which makes one wonder why there are not more being built, especially if  lower cost can be factored in!  For anyone considering building a new home in the near future I would recommend checking into this form of building. Elaine said all buildings being built within the European Union will be Passive- starting this year.  If only we could catch up!

While the home is certainly “minimalistic”, one can’t but help be envious of its simplicity and warmth, while saving the environment.  The owners say they do not miss anything about their past homes.  All Elaine needs now is a "red chair".

 For more information two lovely books :

Mary James
Features Ned & Elaine's home

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