The buzz in energy efficiency: ‘Passive house’ debuts in Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new home in ultra-green Austin is the latest buzz in energy efficiency. It’s known as a “passive house” and it’s the first of its kind here.

“The difference is the passive house solely focuses on reducing the energy load,” said Nick Wakem, energy consultant.

The modern-styled home, at 3602 Abbate Circle, uses only a quarter of the energy a typical three-bedroom, two-bath house would use.

The savings come from concentrating on the “envelope,” or the walls, windows and doors. The windows are triple-paned. At twelve inches thick, the walls sport layers of insulation. Passive houses are virtually airtight.

Because little air escapes, it doesn’t take much to keep it comfortable inside. An energy recovery ventilator circulates the air.

In hot, muggy Central Texas, however, there are some challenges.

“The passive house standards are coming from a German climate, which is very different from our climate,” said Sam Rusek, energy consultant. “We’re dealing with cooling loads down here and dehumidifying air.”

Rusek says she looks forward to the day when passive house standards can be made specific to the South.

Passive house building standards can apply to any construction project, not just homes, and are more popular in other parts of the country. Rusek says passive homes cost only about 5 to 10 percent more than a typical new build.

“It adds a different challenge,” said Nick Wakem, energy consultant. “In this case, this was our first passive house in Austin and the builder’s first time building one. So yeah, some of the details are different. There is a learning curve to that. I think if we were to do a second one it’d be much easier.”

The home is currently for sale.

Wakem and Rusek are hosting a passive house conference in April.

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