Passive house construction is an opportunity for Cleveland Heights

Interior of the PNC Smarthome. Photo byDoty & Miller Architects

The SmartHome is nothing short of amazing! It’s a game-changer! I know of no other way to describe the combination of “passive” features, such as sun-harvesting triple-pane windows and super insulated and sealed building shell with “active” advanced low-energy consuming electric heating and cooling equipment. The result is a state-of-the-art performance package. This is the approach used when designing a house to meet the high certification standards established by the Passive House Institute US. 

Passive solar house design and construction began in the United States in the 1970s and evolved in Europe. More than a decade ago, a detailed construction evaluation system was developed and administered by the Passive House Institute in Darmstadt, Germany.

Today there are more than 10,000 European Passive House buildings, including offices and schools. The resulting structures have an energy requirement nearly 90 percent less than that needed by conventionally constructed buildings. 

The PNC SmartHome Cleveland is the first Passive House open to the public in the United States. It is on display at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History through early October as part of the climate change exhibit open through the end of the year.

The SmartHome will live on after October, when it will be moved to a permanent site on Wade Park Avenue and offered for sale to a private owner. The new owner will not only own an important part of modern Cleveland history, but also will enjoy low energy bills, a draft-free home, a quiet interior environment and a level of quality not found in conventional homes today. These “must have” features represent the biggest change in home construction since the introduction of air-conditioning in the 1950s.

Green building has grown up and is here to stay. A goal of the PNC SmartHome exhibit is to introduce Passive House building concepts and innovative construction details, materials and technology to the Great Lakes region.

What are the prospects of bringing this building concept to Cleveland Heights? Already, a new home based on Passive House technology is planned for the Ambler Heights neighborhood. More modest applications of energy-saving building techniques can be applied to home preservation and rehab projects, such as those being considered by the Home Repair Resource Center and homeowners throughout the Heights.

New infill single- and multi-family housing designs can incorporate super-insulated and sealed walls, roofs and foundations. Highly efficient heat pump systems, with energy recovery ventilation systems, can replace conventional furnaces. Triple glass windows, often too expensive for a replacement option, fit more easily into new construction budgets. 

Beyond residential projects, new design and construction methods could apply to commercial and mixed-use buildings at such sites as the undeveloped parcels at Meadowbrook and Lee roads and at the intersection of Cedar Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard. These construction methods result in buildings that retain greater long-term value and durability with a predicted life span of up to 300 years. 

I look forward to the next decade when this will become the way we build toward sustainability and energy conservation.

The design and construction team also included David Beach, director of the Green City Blue Lake Institute at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Bill Doty and Kevin Cieszykowski of Doty & Miller Architects, Mark Hoberecht of HarvestBuild, Chris Kontur of CPK Construction, Mike McAndrews of Knight & Stolar Landscape Architects, and Jeff Walters of Panzica Construction.

Chuck Miller

Chuck Miller is the architect for the PNC SmartHome. 

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Volume 4, Issue 9, Posted 12:09 PM, 09.01.2011