You may want to build a home that’s energy efficient, but how about a home that’s so efficient that your energy bill will be on average about $1 to $2 a day?
In Texas’ first Passive House Certified home, that’s the case, with a home that is not just energy efficient, but healthy for inhabitants too. Built by Fagin Partners, the home, located in northwest Dallas, is a two-story spec home of 3,230 sq. ft.
The path to building a passive home started about three years ago, when Kyle Fagin — who owns Fagin Partners with his son, Connor — read an article about passive houses and decided it would be a great challenge for the firm.
“I’ve always been a fan of energy efficiency and the environment, so one of the things we started to do about three years ago is look at ways to make a home more energy efficient and still make the numbers work,” says Kyle. “Money wasn’t really our concern; we wanted to make a better product.”
Fagin Partners then started sourcing materials and training employees to do things a little different than they’ve done before. According to the International Passive House Association (iPHA), which provides the rigorous standards needed to certify a home as being Passive House Certified, these are the five main building principles that should be utilized in a passive house:
- “Insulation: A well-insulated building envelope keeps warmth in during the cold months and heat out during warmer months.
- Passive House windows: Strategically positioned, highly insulated windows do their part to make optimal use of the sun’s energy.
- Ventilation with heat recovery: Passive House ventilation systems provide plentiful fresh, pollen and dust-free air with maximal energy efficiency through heat recovery.
- Airtightness: Passive Houses are designed to avoid leakages in the building envelope, thus boosting energy efficiency while preventing draughts and moisture damage.
- Thermal bridge free design: Avoidance of thermal bridges, weak points in the building envelope, contributes to pleasant, even temperatures while eliminating moisture damage and improving energy efficiency.”
This is where the Fagin’s home is different than other green homes. Rather than employ just one system to handle heating and cooling, filtration and other functions, the home has three different systems to handle these tasks.
“No single system is designed to do all of these difference functions efficiently,” says Connor. “In our house, we have a really unique set up, resulting in a home that utilizes about 90 percent less energy than a typical home.”
The set up includes a Mitsubishi heat pump that’s responsible for increasing or decreasing the temperature in the home. Then there’s the energy recovery ventilator (ERV), which handles air quality. The system pulls in fresh air from outside, filters it, and circulates it throughout the home. It also draws in stale air, usually from the kitchen or bathrooms, and sends that outside. The third component is a humidifier that runs only when needed to help keep the home’s air quality just right. Connor says these three systems running together makes the home’s seal almost airtight, without sacrificing air quality. This makes the home healthy too, particularly for those with asthma or allergies.
With this system, the AC is left at 71 degrees Fahrenheit and the heater at 69 degrees Fahrenheit. And still, an energy bill of $2 or less each day is the norm. “There are very even temperatures in the house year-round,” Connor says.
This home is not just passive; it’s resilient. Located in the heart of Tornado Alley, the swath of central U.S. states that see the most tornados, the home has 14-inch-thick walls, an 18-inch-thick roof and triple-paned windows (Connor says these are usually tornado resistant, too). The home also has a rainwater harvesting system that holds 2,500 gallons of water to help keep the landscaping lush without the use of city water.
While Kyle and Connor are excited about the attention the home has been getting, they are more excited about the opportunity to spread the word about passive homes.
“Our hope is that more people (in the United States) know about passive homes,” Connor says. “Once people start to understand it and know they can have it, and once builders know that more buyers want this type of home, then maybe it will catch on here.”
Kyle agrees. “Almost 50 percent of greenhouse gases in the United States come from homes,” he says. “If we can start building homes more efficiently, that can have a huge impact on the environment over time. The more people that know about this, the more we can do to change the way homes are built and that will have a positive effect on the environment.”
This first passive home was a learning experience for Kyle and Connor. They are now are at work on a second passive home, which will be larger and just down the street from the first.
Patricia L. Garcia is an award-winning freelance journalist who has written for NewHomeSource, the Associated Press, New Mexico magazine and the Texas Bar Journal. When not writing, she can be found in the garden, battling weeds and high-desert heat.