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The 100K House project gets passive

A few months ago I wrote about the 100K House, a project to build a LEED-platinum certified home for $100,000 in construction costs. The developers, a company called Postgreen, are continuing in their quest for world domination, and their next batch of urban homes will be built to the even more exacting Passive House standard.

Passive Houses, you may recall, are constructed with an airtight envelope and ultrathick insulation. They use mechanical ventilators to draw in fresh air, with heat exchangers to ensure that a minimum of energy is lost to the outside. Passive Houses are so thermally efficient that they require barely any heating or cooling, even in the harsh central European climates where they were first developed. A Passive House uses about 90% less energy than a conventional home, and their small energy load can often be supplied by on-site renewable generation, making them Zero Energy Homes as well.

I had the opportunity to tour the original 100K House while on a recent trip to Philadelphia. In addition to its low energy footprint, it comes with some other nice green amenities, including solar hot water heating, a convection range, and a combination washer/dryer unit that doesn’t require a vent because it uses a condenser to reclaim water.

Postgreen been successful in meeting their goal of green and cheap because they’ve taken a whole-systems approach to house design. Their homes are smaller, use load-bearing prefabricated insulated panels as the primary construction material, and employ an open floor plan that is easier to heat and cool. The modernist design isn’t for everyone, but the homes are finding a ready market, even in the current recession.

For decades, home buyers have been conditioned to think of their house an an investment, something that can only climb in value. With this mindset, buyers seek to maximize the amount of money they spend — to take out the biggest possible mortgage — on the theory that more money put in means even greater appreciation.

Postgreen anticipates that people will begin to see their homes as they really are — not just an investment but also as an expense. Buyers will seek out not just the best investment, but also the best deal: homes that radically slash their energy budgets while still offering modern amenities at affordable prices.

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