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Taking a Passive Approach with Homes Can Pay Off

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR(R) Magazine

Photo credit: Habitat for Humanity

Homes constructed using passive design principles may soon grow in popularity, thanks to a recently debuted Habitat for Humanity home in Washington, D.C., that proved ultra energy efficient homes can be constructed at an affordable price.

The “net zero” home promises its home owners no heating or cooling bills, ever.

Passive homes follow some of the highest energy standards for slashing utility costs. These homes have lower energy consumption by being super-insulated and airtight. For example, the Habitat for Humanity home uses up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a typical home.

And the price — unlike many other passive designed homes — is reasonable: $200,000, which fits the typical cost of a Habitat Humanity home in the Washington, D.C., area.

What’s more, the home owners stand to potentially save nearly $72,000 on energy costs over the course of their 30-year mortgage.

Passive homes, in general, usually are about 15 percent more expensive to construct due to special materials.

The home is a two-home duplex, featuring a wooden porch in front and solar panels on the roof. One way designers were able to cut down on the costs is the home has 12-inch thick walls and triple-glazed windows, meaning the solar panels on the roof — which are known as being pricey — could be smaller.

“Someone the other day asked me if this was a log cabin in the city,” Lakiya Culley, the home owner, told Climate Progress. “Someone else asked me if I was hiring, people are always taking pictures. I guess that’s because it just looks different from the other houses on the block. I don’t mind though, I like to be a little different.”

The home, known as “Empowerhouse,” was started two years ago as an entry in the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon contest by engineering and architecture students from Stevens Institute of Technology, Parsons The New School for Design, and Milano School for International Affairs. The students set out to not only build an energy efficient house but one that was also affordable, and later teamed with Habitat for Humanity to complete it.

“We did it — a non-profit, affordable house developer can do this, even using volunteers with no construction experience,” Orlando Velez, manager of Housing Services for Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C., told Salon. “What’s everyone else waiting for?”

With mounting utility costs, home owners may be more keen to embrace passive house design principles. “And our home owners are going to be out in front of the movement,” says Susanne Slater, president and CEO of D.C. Habitat for Humanity.

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