A glimpse at the ideas re-shaping building design from the science up

Passive house image

I wrote the cover story to the special September edition of “Green Building + Design,” a design-porn glossy that doesn’t shy away from hard questions about its subjects. (I, for one, balk at the consumerist trend to “be green.”)

I wrote about the mantra–and standards–called Passive House, which uses modelling and analysis to incorporate remarkable efficiencies without breaking the bank.

In choosing photos, of course, the magazine has to cater to its audience, which craves pricey aesthetics.

Here’s the PDF of the 10-page spread, but in case you want to get a feel before jumping in, I’ve pasted the leading paragraphs below.

When you’re old and frail, or maybe when your kids are old and frail, textbooks may refer back to the early 2000s as the time when we started applying the same rigorous science to the design of our built environment that for a hundred years already we had put to work in our cars, entertainment, and communication. Those future readers might wonder, “What took us so long?”

Nobody is doing more to advance building science today than the people behind Passive House. They advocate super-tight envelopers, extreme insulation and specialty windows, window placement that accounts for solar gain, and heat-exchanger ventilators and heat-recapturing appliances. They’re thoroughly mindful of thermal bridging–properly insulating I-beams from the outside, for example, since in the winter they suck heat out.

One of the Passive House movement’s most significant achievements is analytical software that ties together all these techniques and materials and provides predictive power based on real analyses of houses built before.

The past few months in photos, minus all the computers

Wisdom from people who live in cabins


Tiny-house construction in the Beaver Brook community in the forest of upstate New York. Thanks to the photographer, Jace Cooke, for the Creative Commons license.

Head over to cabinporn.com for a real show. (Not that kind, you sex addict. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The folks behind the site, the residents of Beaver Brook, posted this quote recently.

It’s my experience that artist communities are almost always camps because they appropriate space that nobody else wants (at the time), but by virtue of a creative progressive view of neighborhoods they create a demand from others that ultimately marginalizes them, so they are forever transient. – James Lynch, founder of Fforest camp.

For the privilege of saving 6 cents a month, please pay $50

The City of Springfield says no one has applied to its new program to award a kind of tax break to those who minimize runoff from their properties. (The city’s often forced to process said runoff as sewage, an expensive proposition.)

Like very few others, I read the credit manual from cover to cover. It has people paying a $50 application fee for the chance to save an average of 6 cents a month. Even the guy in charge of the program said he understood why people weren’t applying. My story posted the question: why write a manual at all?

I can understand trying to “protect the revenue stream,” as the city says, but a lot of our readers thought this went above and beyond.

Credit unions vs. banks: the fight started late last year; here we catch up with the data

New credit union data provided an occasion to discuss, with an A1 story, the differences between the two forms of banking — and the PR war that’s been fought since the Occupy movement started pushing credit unions last fall.

I also reported that the ubiquitous local bank, Security National, took a $100 million TARP bailout to compensate for losing money on sub-prime mortgage securities.

Credit unions are growing in members and deposits faster than they have in the past. While it doesn’t seem to be impacting banks much yet, the potential is there.

So the spokesman for the state association of bankers forwarded me a GAO study. It seems to indicate that banks do a better job serving people “of modest means” than banks do. Which undermines the reason for credit unions’ tax exemption. Are credit unions screwing society on the level of GE? I’m gonna look into this further.