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Passive Acceptance: 7 Energy-Efficient Homes

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Passive heating and cooling are both cost-efficient measures that ease a new residence's burden on the earth. From super-green homes to certified Passive Houses, here are six great examples of the genre.
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  South-facing windows, bedrooms situated at each end of a simple gabled structure, and a sleeping loft maximize both energy efficiency and an open, airy feeling in this Rhode Island vacation home by ZeroEnergy Design. Photo by Greg Premru.

    South-facing windows, bedrooms situated at each end of a simple gabled structure, and a sleeping loft maximize both energy efficiency and an open, airy feeling in this Rhode Island vacation home by ZeroEnergy Design. Photo by Greg Premru.

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  Among the first Passive Houses in France, this bamboo-clad farmhouse by the Parisian firm Karawitz Architecture only uses a tenth of the energy a conventionally constructed home does. Photo by Nicholas Calcott.

    Among the first Passive Houses in France, this bamboo-clad farmhouse by the Parisian firm Karawitz Architecture only uses a tenth of the energy a conventionally constructed home does. Photo by Nicholas Calcott.

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  This house in Chile floats atop a 180-foot cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a 90-minute drive from Santiago and nearly as far from municipal utilities. The residents equipped the house with solar panels, a wind turbine, and a gravity-fed well and employed passive heating and cooling strategies. 

    This house in Chile floats atop a 180-foot cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a 90-minute drive from Santiago and nearly as far from municipal utilities. The residents equipped the house with solar panels, a wind turbine, and a gravity-fed well and employed passive heating and cooling strategies. 

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  For this rural Ontario home, the owner focused more on natural forces than high-tech gizmos: "To to me there are more interesting things in passive design that rely on the available sun and wind." A 1.4-kW solar array by Sharp and propane-powered in-floor radiant heating from Radiantec obviate any need to connect to municipal power. Photo by Derek Shapton.

    For this rural Ontario home, the owner focused more on natural forces than high-tech gizmos: "To to me there are more interesting things in passive design that rely on the available sun and wind." A 1.4-kW solar array by Sharp and propane-powered in-floor radiant heating from Radiantec obviate any need to connect to municipal power. Photo by Derek Shapton.

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  Passive solar design, which promotes passive means of generating and retaining warmth over active—and expensive—systems, is central to R-House’s success. ARO designed it so that solar gain—chiefly from rear-facing windows that cascade from roofline to threshold on the building’s south side—and heat generated by people and electrical equipment warm the house.

    Passive solar design, which promotes passive means of generating and retaining warmth over active—and expensive—systems, is central to R-House’s success. ARO designed it so that solar gain—chiefly from rear-facing windows that cascade from roofline to threshold on the building’s south side—and heat generated by people and electrical equipment warm the house.

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  Unlike its next-door neighbor, R-House, TED wasn’t originally planned to meet the exacting Passive House standard. The building’s green bona fides came largely from four roof-mounted thermal solar panels and a 120-gallon water storage tank that architect Tim McDonald attests would have met nearly all of the home’s heat and hot-water needs. After submitting the proposal, though, he completed a course in the Passive House standard. Inspired, McDonald modified the original approach, ditching the tank and thermal panels in favor of a highly insulated, airtight envelope—the equivalent, he says, of shielding the house from the harsh Syracuse winter with a fur coat instead of a windbreaker.

    Unlike its next-door neighbor, R-House, TED wasn’t originally planned to meet the exacting Passive House standard. The building’s green bona fides came largely from four roof-mounted thermal solar panels and a 120-gallon water storage tank that architect Tim McDonald attests would have met nearly all of the home’s heat and hot-water needs. After submitting the proposal, though, he completed a course in the Passive House standard. Inspired, McDonald modified the original approach, ditching the tank and thermal panels in favor of a highly insulated, airtight envelope—the equivalent, he says, of shielding the house from the harsh Syracuse winter with a fur coat instead of a windbreaker.

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  If you ask Thomas Robertson, the difference between actively green houses and his passively sustainable Courtyard House is the difference between “a solar-powered yacht and a sailboat.

    If you ask Thomas Robertson, the difference between actively green houses and his passively sustainable Courtyard House is the difference between “a solar-powered yacht and a sailboat.

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