Thursday, August 15, 2013

"Passive" versus "pretty good?"

Passive solar design is in the news today. Time for a catch-up.

Here's a link to a New York Times article today lauding the passive house concept.

Full disclosure: The prototype for the Bensonwood design discussed in the article is the Unity College Presidential Residence, which we call the "Unity House."

This building is an important piece of recent architecture, and an important milestone in the ongoing energy-and-climate crisis. We also have the Terra House on campus, the first passive solar student residence in the US.

The NYT article also discusses the "pretty good house" concept, an all-American attempt to reduce the very high passive house standard to something do-able with the level of skill, training, interest and finance in the American construction industry.

I think that the "pretty good house" is also an important architectural concept, and an important milestone in the climate-and-energy crisis of the early 21st century.

One of these days, perhaps in a hundred years' time or so, we'll look back at this period and write histories of how humans came to terms with climate change. We'll then realize how important building design is to tackling climate change, and we'll highlight milestones in design development, much as today we consider James Watt and Henry Ford as milestones in the Industrial Revolution.

Our college president is a leader in the "divestment" campaign, whereby colleges and universities and pension funds and so on are encouraged to divest themselves of investments in fossil energy.

Buildings are a major investment for individuals and institutions.

Buildings can and should be divested too.

Passive design is super green. It's an attainable standard for new buildings, if you can afford 10-30% extra costs. "Pretty good", on the other hand, can be achieved within the existing budget. It's a compromise, but a sensible one.

This summer I attempted to use the "pretty good house" approach with our new extension at Womerlippi Farm. This is not a worldwide or national milestone, but it was important to me as a sustainability "deed."

We'll follow almost all the recommendations, including the commissioning. The blower door test will take place later this fall semester as part of the Unity College Green Building class, which is part of our Sustainable Energy Management degree.

So here's my summer green design "research project,"  a six-hundred foot extension to the farmhouse, built to "pretty good house" standards, with particular emphasis on local materials and low price. I haven't added up all the invoices yet, but I easily expect to come in under $20,000, including the septic extension.

And here's the inside as it stands today. This is our new living room.

In my last few days of summer break, I'm crunching on drywall. I'd like to have the taping and mudding done in the two largest rooms.

Here's a link to the whole slideshow of the building process.

Of course, that $20,000 does not include any labor consideration. My labor came "free,*"  a result of my nine-month Unity College faculty work year, which gives me the summer off, unpaid, but with the expectation that I will use at least some of that time in research and praxis related to my field.

I think this counts, don't you?

What do you think the Unity College Faculty Evaluation Committee will say when I use it in the "Professional Development" section of my next faculty evaluation?

* Footnote! Any economist will tell you in a heartbeat that the "free" labor statement is not accurate -- the opportunity cost of my labor is actually the wage I could have gotten working on my next most remunerative job. But I prefer to take a more holistic view. I enjoyed building this "pretty good" extension, and learned a lot from the process. That enjoyment and learning was additional "remuneration." And the SEM students that have green energy internships in our local area also visited the building site and learned something too.

No comments: