The House That Can Be Heated With A Hairdryer

The House That Can Be Heated With A Hairdryer

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Photo 1: Aaron Leitz Photography

…in theory, at least.  Seattle’s first Passive House has been built by NK Architects, in partnership with Cascade Built.  Completed late in 2013, the house, Park Passive House in Madison Park, is the first in Seattle to be certified by the Passive House Academy and authorized by the German Passivhaus Institute.

Constructed on a brownfield site that was regarded as barely suitable for homebuilding, the house has a near-airtight envelope that prevents heat loss –hence the attention-grabbing ‘hairdryer’ headline.  In fact, the house uses about as much energy to heat as a hairdryer does to run, though presumably you could go from room to room with a Babyliss and get a similar result!

Cascade Built founder Sloan Ritchie explains the rationale behind the house’s design: ‘Inefficient buildings are the number one consumer of energy in the world, and the largest contributor to climate change,’ says Mr. Ritchie.

The house is intended to use as near to zero energy to heat and cool as possible; in the case of Seattle’s latest contribution to environmentalism, that means a set of high-tech Intus high performance windows and a heat recovery ventilator, while carefully placed glazing in the building’s roof provide maximal natural light and incidentally provide great views out over the park.

A result of all this care to preserve every watt of energy, largely through insulation, is that the Park House uses about 80% less energy than a similar sized home the same size built to standard building codes, and about 90%-95% less energy for heating.

It’s economical in other ways, too: the Park House gets a floor area of 2, 710 feet out of a 2, 000 square foot footprint, in a design Ms. Ritchie calls ‘as bold as the Passive House concept itself.’

In some ways, Passive House design is not all that bold: the idea of passive solar building design, using sunlight to obtain the maximum possible heating effect, dates back to the Greeks and Romans, while super-insulation has been in use in Scandinavian countries particularly for some time; unsurprisingly, Scandic countries have jumped on the Passive House concept.

What is bold about the Passive House concept is the idea of utilizing all these strategies at once to achieve a radical environmental effect: ‘Passive House design standards offer a way forward towards net-zero building with strategies that are relatively easy to implement – better windows and doors, more insulation, improved air sealing. Unlike asking people to stop driving their cars, Passive House reduces our carbon footprint while increasing comfort and quality of life,’ in Ms. Ritchie’s words.

In a nicely poetic nod to the ethos behind the house’s design, a tree salvaged from the construction site provided the timber for the staircases and touches like the bathroom counter top.

NK Architects sees the completion of Park Passive as the beginning, not the end.  Says Boyd Pickrell, Principal at NK: ‘Passive House’s focus on performance, human comfort and simplicity aligns well with our approach to design. It supports our mission to create dense urban housing that is responsive to people’s needs and supportive of highly sustainable lifestyles. We work on a variety of housing scales, and we intend to apply this expertise not only to future single-family projects but also to our larger multi-family projects nationwide where even greater energy efficiency gains can be realized.’

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