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August 27, 2014
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Habitat to build ‘Passive House'


FALLSBURG, NY — Planning is underway for an exciting building project believed to be one of the first of its kind in the realm of homes built through the Habitat for Humanity (HFH) program. This special home will be Sullivan County’s third HFH project and first home designed to Passive House standards and targeted to serve as a learning tool for the volunteer work force that will build it.

The Passive House concept is a building standard that sets a very specific—and very low—operating energy budget for homes or buildings constructed to that standard. The home will be designed as a three-to-four-bedroom, two-bath structure, with a maximum of 1,230 square foot net living space. It will be built on a frost-protected slab and a thermal envelope will wrap all six sides of the house.

The home’s location was determined as a result of a property donation to HFH. The family who gets to occupy it will be identified by the HFH Family Selection Committee and will be expected to participate in the home’s construction.

The project’s planning team consists of five individuals. Pat Pomeroy is the president of the Sullivan chapter of HFH, and serves as the board liaison with the construction committee.

Michael Chojnicki and Buck Moorhead are architects brought on board for their special connections to community and to sustainability issues. Chojnicki and Stephen Stuart of Sustainable Solutions collaborated in developing and teaching a sustainable building course for Sullivan County BOCES. Moorhead is training as a Passive House Consultant and brings a wealth of community planning experience to the project.

Bert Echt of Evergreen Design will serve as the project’s construction manager and Stuart is coordinating the process.

“Bert and I worked on the HFH house in Liberty and believed that a more sustainable house could be built,” said Stuart. “We expressed our interest to the HFH Board of Directors and the board invited us to be a part of the construction committee. Bert is a genius at putting together low tech systems that work well and conserve energy.”

Stuart and Chojnicki recently attended the 36th annual Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s (NESEA) BuildingEnergy Conference in Boston, PA (www.NESEA.org). NESEA is a regional organization promoting sustainable energy practices. Its members are self-described “practical idealists” who are passionate about healthy, efficient buildings and transportation systems powered by clean renewable energy.

Stuart, who has participated in the construction of HFH’s first two homes, began advocating for a home built to Passive House standards. “We know that our current energy codes do little to curtail the unwarranted use of energy to heat and cool our homes,” he said. “Passive House standards, which draw upon innovative designs to super insulate homes and drastically reduce the amount of energy used to occupy them, are now the most energy efficient standards in the world. One of the exciting elements of such design is that you eliminate the need for central heating and cooling systems, which traditionally consume huge quantities of fossil fuels and result in big energy/utility bills for the homeowner.”

At the latest meeting, both architects presented preliminary designs which will evolve as the project develops. Use of solar thermal for domestic hot water heating was discussed and concluded to be an integral part of the sustainable design. The team discussed use of a heat recovery ventilator to ensure good indoor air quality. Reclaimed materials will be targeted to both reduce costs and to improve the home’s sustainable development aspect.

Next, the team will meet at the site to measure solar availability and evaluate any remaining site issues. Groundbreaking is estimated for June. Members of the team will be seeking donations from regional businesses for various services or material needed.

Beyond providing a truly sustainable home for a deserving family, Stuart is involved for other reasons. “For me, volunteer work is a spiritual practice which actualizes the Unitarian Universalist belief to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” he said. “I want this to be an example of what sustainable building is and to offer the other volunteers of HFH an opportunity to really get involved in that. We have a wonderful team to work with, a very supportive board of directors and an opportunity to walk our talk.”

For more information, contact Stuart at 845/252-6626. Visit www.passivehouse.us/passiveHouse/PHIUSHome.html to learn more about Passive House standards.