What’s a sensible path to high performance? In buildings, the key to comfort, health, efficiency, and durability is to manage flows of heat, air, and moisture. Get heat, air, and moisture flows right and you can achieve high-performance. Get them wrong and they’ll come back to haunt you.
There are several excellent paths to high performance. We think highly of these:
A “Pretty Good House” is actually a very good house — far better than bare-bones code minimums. It’s a set of recommendations for homes and small-to-medium-size buildings in cold climates like New England. It developed through informal “Building Science” discussions in Portland, Maine. It asks, “What should we consider, what targets should we set, to ensure comfort, efficiency, health, durability, and cost-effectiveness? How do we make sure a building won’t be obsolete in ten to fifteen years?” This is our baseline standard — the right thing to do no matter what.
“Passive House” is a set of rigorous, quantifiable standards for exceptional energy efficiency. Achieving it relies on sophisticated energy-modeling software plus careful field testing and verification. Passive House certification is neither easy nor cheap — it requires real effort and commitment. Some folks are willing to make that commitment, whatever it takes. We haven’t done a certified Passive House — yet. Still, thinking about what would it take to get Passive House certification is a great way to find opportunities for excellent performance.
A “Zero Net Energy” building is energy-efficient enough that all its operational energy needs can be supplied by renewable energy, usually onsite solar-electric panels connected to the grid. That makes the building “carbon neutral,” helping solve the challenge of climate change. Recent drops in solar-electricity prices often make “Zero Net Energy” a realistic goal, technically and financially. For efficient buildings with good solar exposure — or ones sharing in a “community solar farm” — Zero Net Energy is achievable. We’ve only done a few. Still, as with Passive House, thinking about what would it take is an excellent way to find opportunities for high-performance.
What’s your choice?