Virginia-based Structures Design/Build claims its home designs to Passivhaus standard that use up to 70% less energy than conventional homes cost the same or less than conventional building methods, cracking the green homes 'affordability nut'
February 25, 2014
– Adam Cohen and the team at Structures Design/Build in Roanoke are garnering national attention – and accolades – for proving that buildings featuring the world’s most advanced energy-saving design and construction techniques need cost no more than typical new buildings.
Any skilled contractor with a big enough budget can build an amazing energy-efficient home. But few builders have been able to do it for the same cost as conventional construction. A recent article in the Roanoke Times chronicles how Adam Cohen of Structures Design/Build has managed to do just that, building not only homes but commercial and institutional structures that meet the exacting Passivhaus standard and cost no more, or in some cases less, than comparable code-compliant buildings. “We’ve been able to crack the affordability nut,” Cohen says. “That’s what sets us apart.”
A case in point is the 1,800-square-foot Specht residence, near Thaxton, Va. The home won the prestigious 2013 GreenBuilder Home of the Year Award in the Best Mainstream Green category and was recently featured in Fine Homebuilding magazine. A modern adaptation of the traditional Craftsman style, the home fits naturally into the surrounding countryside. But it is also a certified Passivhaus, which means it meets the highest contemporary standard for energy efficiency, comfort, and sustainability.
By design, the house uses 70% less energy than conventional new construction. This is not just a marketing claim: During its first year of operation, the all-electric home used an average of $1.50 per day in total energy – an annual total of only 5,760 kilowatt-hours – including heat, air-conditioning, hot water, lights, and plug loads. By contrast, a new energy-code-compliant home would use over 19,000 Kwh. Because of the proven accuracy of the Passivhaus modeling tool, the energy savings was factored into the mortgage by the bank and will benefit the homeowners for decades to come.
When they decided to build, Jason and Stephanie Specht knew that they wanted an energy-efficient home, but they had trouble finding a contractor who shared their vision. Then they met Adam Cohen.
“Sustainability and reducing our footprint was important to us, but in the beginning we thought that energy efficiency would cost us more than we could afford,” says Jason Specht. “Adam gave us a book about Passivhaus and showed us how the financing would work. We went from wanting to build an energy-efficient house to building the most efficient house possible. We feel fortunate that we had an opportunity to do something like this and work with someone that passionate about it.”
“Working with Jason and Stephanie was wonderful,” says Adam Cohen of Structures. “They were open to exploring Passivhaus, and through the process of educating themselves became dedicated to creating this home. The thing about this technology is that it is not magic or voodoo – it is building science. In the hands of a experienced design/builder, the Passivhaus approach delivers a future-proof, low-energy home at a cost equal to that of a standard home.”
So what’s it like living in a Passivhaus? Jason Specht answers that question: “After living in this house, we really notice the difference when we visit other homes – they seem stuffy by comparison, and we’re always glad to come home. It’s a much fresher feeling.” Credit for that goes to the home’s energy-recovery ventilator, or ERV, which constantly exhausts stale indoor air and brings in fresh outdoor air, relying on a heat exchanger core to maintain steady indoor temperatures while moderating seasonal humidity levels.
Structures Design/Build, LLC, founded in 1999, specializes in high-performance commercial and residential construction. Adam Cohen is a certified Passivhaus consultant in both North America and Europe. To date, Structures has completed three certified Passivhaus residences and four commercial Passivhaus buildings, including a school, a cultural center, a dental office, and a college dormitory.
Cohen is a recognized leader in the Passivhaus movement and has presented technical papers at both national and international Passivhaus conferences. He is vice-chair of the technical committee of the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS), and co-wrote and teaches the builder training curriculum for PHIUS. Because of his groundbreaking work in commercial Passivhaus, Cohen is a sought-after speaker, consultant, and teacher of advanced courses in ultra-low-energy design.
Contact Structures for more information or to obtain images of the Specht House.