In 2014, housing prices in the San Francisco Bay Area began to rise rapidly. I was living in a small apartment near Palo Alto and no longer working full-time. I wanted to improve my quality of life but the only local real estate I could afford to purchase was a condo, not much of an improvement. It was time to consider a move to a less expensive locale. An opportunity arose to purchase an undeveloped property in a beautiful part of Rhode Island, and I had always wanted to live in New England. This looked like a great place to build an interesting new house.
I wanted my new house to be energy-efficient, comfortable, quiet, and safe. After discussions with a local builder, we assembled a team of highly-qualified professionals who understood what I wanted to do and were up to speed on the latest advances in home design and construction. We decided to design and build a house that achieves, and hopefully exceeds, a very stringent set of requirements called the Passive House building standard. The term Passive House refers to any residential or commercial building that is tested and certified by one of two independent standards organizations, PHI or PHIUS.
A Passive House typically uses up to 90% less energy than a conventional American home – hard to believe, but true. The air inside the home is clean and safe, with very little temperature variation (no hot or cold spots). Occupants aren’t bothered by pollen, excessive humidity, or outside noise.
How does a Passive House achieve this?
Passive solar heating. The primary source of heat during the cooler months will be sunlight that enters through large, south-facing windows. Wide eaves and other shading techniques are used to minimize solar gain during the warmer months.
Superinsulation. A passive house uses insulation with very high R-values around the main envelope, including the foundation.
Minimal thermal bridging. Passive house designers try very hard to eliminate thermal bridging inside the main envelope. Thermal bridging occurs when a conductive material extends from within the main envelope to the outside air.
No leaks! The main envelope is virtually airtight, preventing infiltration of outside air and loss of conditioned air.
High-performance windows and doors. European-designed windows and doors provide exceptional thermal and acoustical insulation. Features include triple glazing, multiple gaskets, warm-edge spacers, and a multi-point locking system to ensure a tight seal.
Whole-house ventilation. An independent ventilation system exchanges the air inside the main envelope every few hours, and includes subsystems for air filtration, energy recovery, and dehumidification.
Power Generation and Storage
I want to reduce my contribution to greenhouse gas pollution, so I decided to install an array of solar panels on the main roof and generate my own power. This clean source of energy will greatly reduce the amount of power I purchase from the local electric utility.
I’m also installing a battery-based energy storage system from Sonnen USA to store power during the day and supply it at night. As battery costs come down, I believe that more homeowners will elect to install similar backup systems instead of relying on noisy, polluting gasoline generators. It just makes sense.
- Steven Baczek, principal architect
- Nancy Leslie, architect and interior designer
- Stephen DeMetrick, home builder
- Daniel Roy, Passive House consultant
- Shawn Mayers, landscape designer
- Jeffrey Balch, surveyor and site engineer
During the construction of the house, I have been taking photos every few days. You can view a selection of these photos in these albums:
- Clearing the building site
- April 2016
- May 2016
- June 2016
- July 2016
- August 2016
- September 2016
- October 2016
- November 2016
- December 2016
- January 2017
- February 2017
- March 2017
- April 2017
- May 2017
- June 2017
From 2002 to 2016, I rented an in-law apartment in Los Altos, an upscale Silicon Valley bedroom community. One reason I decided to leave California was the dramatic increase in real estate prices where I was living. According to Trulia, the median sales price of a condo in Los Altos is now approaching $1.5 million USD, an astonishing year-over-year increase of almost 100%. Affordability is a national problem.