Building a Passive House: CEC Editor shares a story

As Editor of the IUCN CEC newsletter, inspirational stories from CEC members come across my desk in a constant stream (keep them coming!) and now I have a story to share. It's about energy use, carbon emissions and poetic justice.

Passive House under construction. For more photos, see Photo: Chris Gould

Here in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City, I am building a Passive House with my husband and two young children. Its thick insulation and huge South windows promise low energy bills forever. As a Passive House, it will attain today’s highest standards for smart energy use and conservation by virtually heating and cooling itself.

Building this way is a process based on purposeful design and building science engineering that takes into account every inch of triple-glazed glass and Neopor (EPS) insulation.

  • “Passive House” is a building standard that is truly energy efficient, comfortable and ecological at the same time. A Passive House is a very well-insulated, virtually air-tight building that is primarily heated by passive solar gain and by internal gains from people, electrical equipment, etc. Energy losses are minimized. It's built to avoid thermal bridging. And, there's one key component: an energy recovery ventilation system (ERV) that boosts performance and keeps the air fresh.

Once it is built, I am planning to hang a map on the wall. It depicts a nuclear power plant with large circles to locate the cooling towers. Instead of a cooling tower, however, in the center of one circle there will be a model of energy efficiency, our Passive House. This is a beautiful site on family farmland going back generations. But in the 1970s (when I was in my early teens), utility companies wanted to build a power plant here, claiming our farm through a law called eminent domain. Years of courts battles ensued and the plant was never built. The grandparents, still living next door, are enjoying my green revenge.

Telling the story will be a contribution to the Passive House movement, and we'll be opening our doors to students and homebuilders and even the Government: The house will be monitored for a year by NYSERDA, a State agency that gave us a research grant to work with The Levy Partnership as part of its High Performance Development Challenge. This way of building is just getting started in the United States, and we are on track to be only the second certified Passive House in New York State.

If you would like to follow our story, feel welcome to visit our blog at

Read more about the team creating our house and their Hudson Passive Project at Dennis Wedlick Architect LLC >>

Susan Guthridge-Gould, CEC member

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