The Passive House Institute US reviews the metrics and rationale of their standard on a three-year cycle. PHIUS+ 2018 was announced at the Passive House Conference in Boston this September, and I find it a brilliant and positive advancement.
Keep in mind that the Passive House Standard prioritizes energy conservation, so its main measure is the annual and peak consumption of space conditioning (how long and hard the mechanical system needs to work). When PHIUS+ 2015 was announced, it was noted that the space conditioning metrics were set so that the amount of insulation required to meet the standard would be beyond the cost-optimized amount; the 2015 standard was pushing hard on passive conservation. (more…)
There’s a terrific video my buddy Corbett did for the Illinois Association of Energy Raters called “If Cars Were Built Like Houses.” It challenges homebuyers to think about what level of performance they will get out of the huge investment they’re about to make. What if houses were built like cars—in a factory, with quality control and third-party testing? That’s how we approach modular prefab—a way to get a better, more predictable product. The first thing to know is that a modular prefab house can be a “trailer home” or it can be a high-design high-performance, low-toxicity (no “new car smell”) home. (more…)
It’s our favorite tour of the year, the Green Built Home Tour, and our Modular Prefab Modern Farmhouse will be featured on this year’s tour on July 28-29, 2018. Our amazing clients, Nate & Deb, will open their new home for visitors to tour their innovative, prefab, modular, Zero Energy Ready Home (DOE). Tom will lead tours and answer all your questions about prefab and green design.
Tickets are available for purchase on the Green Built Home Tour site.
The modular prefab “Modern Farmhouse” was designed by TBDA, with module construction provided by Hi-Tech Housing in Bristol, Indiana. The six modules were shipped to the site and erected in one day, with finishes and fixtures being installed on-site by Himelick Contracting. Tom Bassett-Dilley and Eco Achievers led this mid-construction tour, where they described modular prefab process and how the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home program ensures energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and durability.
On a perfect late summer day we invited a bunch of friends to watch our first modular prefab house being set.
First off, some terminology: prefab is anything factory-built, so it could be trusses, walls, floors; but modular is when “chunks” of the building (or the whole thing if a tiny house) are built in the factory. We were interested in the efficiency and quality control of prefab, and with modular, we could get windows installed, rough electrical wiring, rough plumbing, air sealing (by using the Zip System for sheathing), cavity insulation, and drywall all done in the factory. In our case, we worked with Hi-Tech Housing of Bristol, IN since they are specifically a custom modular manufacturer, No stock plans here–you just take them whatever you’re interested in building, and they help figure out how to break it into chunks that can be transported on trucks. Once the modules are ready, a “set crew” and crane operator are hired to put it together in the field. (more…)
TBDA is pleased to add another project to the distinguished list of Oak Park, IL architectural “firsts.” Our prefab, modular, Zero Energy Ready Home (DOE) has been built in an Indiana factory by Hi-Tech Housing, and was set in place on August 23, 2017 in Oak Park. It took 3 trucks and one large crane to place the six modules together, and after six hours, there stood a fully enclosed and roofed house ready for finishes. (more…)
This is one of those dream projects: great client, great site, and a design that just fell together naturally. And the team at Mike Von Behren Builders is fantastic–really getting into the project and executing beautifully. As one of our first larger rural projects, this was an opportunity to incorporate larger site moves, and let building and site development embrace the flow of water as well as sun, wind, and views. Our approach has been to use biophilic design principles to shape the project, such as prospect and refuge (for siting and layout), visual connection to nature (not a great challenge on this site!), and presence of water, while conceiving of the architecture as an integral part of the site. (more…)
The interaction of the built environment and human health has been a topic of great debate and much development lately. Between the Well Building Standard and the Living Building Challenge, we have new ways of thinking about and measuring our successes and failures in building healthy environments. I encourage everyone to go and read up on those standards, but today I wanted to bring my own angle to the topic. As a follower of the ancestral health movement, I’d like to look at environmental health from an evolutionary perspective, and through an architect’s eye.
First off, the obvious: to quote my favorite blogger Mark Sisson, “avoid poisonous things.” No species would survive long if it chose toxic environments. Yet, sadly, our building industry is chock full of poisons, and it is only with great diligence on the part of architect and builder that low toxicity can be ensured. On top of “clean” materials, it is important to ventilate well, which is a lesson that Passive House teaches. In a tipi or cave, there’s plenty of fresh air (well, smoke too, let’s not romanticize too much here); we need it in our buildings too!
Not doing harm is a necessary first step, but it’s only a start. We must provide positive, nurturing environments! This gets into a newer and more subtle field. When we spent most of our time as a species outdoors, we were tuned to the sights, sounds, textures, and smells of the environment; such sensory engagement, and with natural forces, is a far cry from most indoor environments. On top of that, we were moving, not still–not living a dangerously sedentary lifestyle. And finally, from Jay Appleton to Grant Hildebrand, there is a persistent notion that we as a species seek “prospect and refuge” in our landscapes and environments: we instinctively want a combination of safety and opportunity.
So here’s the big question: how do we design buildings that provide prospect and refuge while keeping people active and in tune with natural forces and sensory input? (Easy answer: send them outdoors! Well…OK, not into that parking lot there, but the woods 35 miles away…OK, not an easy answer after all.) There is a whole field of inquiry seeking to answer this question, that of Biophilic Design, but I’m going to take a shot at answering more simply:
- First, think of the building and site as habitat, not merely a functional package (machine) or fashion plate (trend). But design it beautifully, as an organic whole, an inspiring place.
- Second, as habitat, avoid all toxins in construction! Now to the psychological and design aspects:
- Provide vista: long views, even if only to sky, must be integral to the experience of place.
- Along with vista, balance natural light throughout the space, so that it comes from different directions, allowing one to sense the movement of the sun and appreciate the natural textures inside (see #8) as light reflects off of and rakes across them.
- Provide strong sense of shelter and “edges” (gateway, transitions) bounding the habitat. The demarcation of inside/outside should correspond not to the building walls, but to the boundary of habitat. Think of monasteries (cloisters), farmyards, garden walls–a sense that habitation is not just shut up inside a building, but designed to extend outdoors.
- Provide access to plants, animals, and moving water. A garden to cultivate, indoor plants, pets, birdhouses, livestock, a fountain or stream…the health benefits of these alone are manifold.
- Encourage outdoor experience by designing patios, screen porch, etc. into the flow of a building (a living habitat edge).
- Use natural materials as enclosure and finish, and if employing a decorative level of finish, use natural patterns–I know that’s vague, but it is a worthwhile avenue to pursue. There is a reason Wright’s stained glass windows have enduring appeal, and I think it’s the “nature-pattern” richness of the work more than anything else. Homage to Mother Nature.