"The most challenging aspect of achieving these goals was the location of the home on a typical residential street in Madison, New Jersey," explain architects Jennifer and Brian Marsh of the Hoboken–based firm Mowery Marsh Architects. They wrapped this project in 2017. "We felt it was important to be sensitive to the context given the proximity to the neighbors."
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For the home's style, the clients sought "something timeless that couldn't be labeled traditional or contemporary," note the architects, with open and airy interior spaces that convey warmth.
"Having been from Belgium, they had a unique perspective on the design and desire for the home to be energy efficient," the architects continue.
"We always offer the potential of a high-performing house to our clients and then discuss with them their level of commitment to that approach. Once we explained the Passive House concepts, they were fully onboard, which allowed us to design without worrying about integrating bulky HVAC systems."
According to the firm, there are two common misconceptions in the U.S. about Passive Houses, regarding their design and style. "Firstly, when you say Passive House, often people assume you are talking about passive solar strategies, but that's only one component," they add. "But when it's passive with a capital P & H, the house becomes a 'thermos' that retains cold in the summer and warmth in the winter, while having continuous fresh air."
Key components of a Passive House (in addition to its siting) include continuous insulation without thermal bridging, high-performance windows and doors, a well-sealed envelope, and efficient ventilation.
"The big misconception is that a house has to look a certain way to achieve these goals. That is not true," the architects note. "Most of the houses we design employ Passive House standards, and they can range from townhouses to Victorians to vernacular barns."
"The composition needed to create a compelling focal point, relate to the scale of the room, and keep the clean uncluttered lines of the rest of the architecture," the architects explain. "We liked the idea of the fireplace being centered in a traditional way, yet having the other elements push and pull so it doesn't feel like a static arrangement."
Builder: Mike Passafiume of Home Improvements Plus LLC
Passive House Subcontractor: Endres Home Builders, Inc
Structural Engineer: Proper & O'Leary Engineering
Building Science: Levy Partnership
Pool Install: Rusk Pools
Cabinetry Install: Charles Cimmino Woodworking