Category Archives: passive house

Some day houses for sale will have MPG stickers on them

There is sorta such a thing today.  It’s called HERS.  100 is a “normal” house.  0 is a “net zero energy” house.  And negative means you have even more PVs than you need.  Nice.  Someday websites like,, etc. will let you search on such things.

The best house I’ve seen is this -33 HERS of Carolyn and Kyle Cave in Hadley, MA.   It’s also nice to know what a house is pre-PV to get an idea of how efficient the house and it’s occupants are.  Oh, and a house in Maynard MA is -8 HERS.

Anyway, good work Caves!  Your house follows the important rule of thumb I now encourage people to use — Build (or pick)  your house with a lot of good roof space for PVs.  Small footprint houses like ours are a little more efficient, but we don’t have nearly as much room for PVs.  Dumb.

(Oh, and our house is nearly 0 HERS.  I am not exactly sure what — I forgot to ask for the pre-PV score and if I recall correctly the PV offset used the wrong KW total.)

(Oh, and read about the limitations of HERS at the link at top…)

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If you are pondering indoor air-quality…

If you are pondering indoor air-quality in your home… I urge you to look into the issue of flame-retardants in furniture — specifically in the foam used in mattresses and couches.

Here is an upsetting recent article on the topic PBDEs and chlorinated Tris (I knew about PBDEs, but hadn’t considered that (DUH!) the replacement would probably be just as bad or worse. And that they don’t even work!)

Some good practical advice here (if you are a millionaire)

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Filed under corporations, erik-green, green, health, HVAC, IAQ -- indoor air quality, passive house, science, superinsulation

New house? Changing exterior door knobs? — use levers

Are you building a new house or fixing one up — passivhaus, zero energy, or otherwise energy efficient to some degree? Some simple advice: Use levers not knobs. At least for the exterior doors since those are the ones that are going to be sealed up tight with gaskets and such. And also since your house might be quite tight, especially in the winter when all the windows are closed… you are pushing/pulling against this “vaccuum”. So no draft, but the door is also a little harder to open and close.

Maybe not noticable for an abled adult, but it is noticable if you have little kids. Yes, you say, but turning the knob/lever is different than pushing/pulling the door open and I am only changing the opener not the gaskets. But I am telling you. FROM EXPERIENCE… they are related!!! My 4 year old cannot easily twist the knob and simultaneously push/pull our exterior doors open. I think if they were levers (like a storm door we have)… it would be much easier.

To me this is both a safety issue and a respect for children issue. And you’ll be happy too (and guests) if you are maybe older or injured and are having trouble with the knobs. General “accessibility” I guess the word is.

I’ve heard levers are better. It’s now obvious to me that this is quite correct and important and not to be ignored. Do it!

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Filed under green, kids -- freedom and responsibility, passive house, superinsulation, zero energy home

Our PECs: site vs source (primary) energy

Another good way to weigh one’s home energy usage is per person. (not arbitrary per sqft or per HDD, etc.). PEC=Primary Energy Consumption. Makes sense if we are trying to be “green”.

That’s what Marc Rosenbaum is proposing here.

If I am understanding the gist of what he is saying it is as follows as applies to us:

1. Here in MA/New England, power plants are about 33% efficient. They waste 2/3 of the energy (mostly fossil fuels) in making a unit of electricity. The exact number Marc uses is 1/2.7, not 1/3. (37% efficient source to site.) So… since we have used approximately 11000KWh/year, that is 29700 KWh/year in source energy that we REALLY used.

(Worry about PVs later… in step 3.)

2. We are 4 people, so look up our “fair share” according to his “people = bedrooms+1″ equation and we should be trying to meet 13,600 KWh/year in source energy. For everything… heating, cooling, hot water, appliances, cooking, lighting.

3. One should be able to offset some percentage of hot water and electricity usage from onsite generation. Marc explains (I believe) that the Passivhaus PHPP allows up to 20% offset for a traditional solar hot water system, so in his mind, why not allow up to 20% of electricity use as well. And indeed… we heat our hot water with an air-source heat pump too, so I am lumping it all together. And actually, since I am dealing with real data, not estimates, I see from my record keeping that in the last year we have exported 5600 KWh to the grid. So that is the equivalent of 2.7 that much in “source energy” that we have offset = 15,120 KWh

So if we reduce our 29,700 by 15,120 => 14,580 KWh/year

4. 14,580 > 13,600 KWh (Marc’s limit for 4 people)

So we didn’t meet Marc’s proposed criteria for PEC for a Passivhaus in New England, even assuming my generous PV offset based on our grid export numbers.

Pretty close though. Why didn’t we meet it? I assume:
– Our house is too big (1741 TFA via PHPP)
– 2 of us work at home and waste energy
– Windows and HRV not efficient enough
– We should use more solar thermal heating (I have plans on this front)

‎”Your house is a leaky bucket and the sun is a hose. To raise the water level, you need fewer leaks or a bigger hose.” — Nick Pine in a discussion of his “box on the lawn” solar collector design in

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Our house vs passivhaus / passive house

BTW, as a followup to my last post. Our house misses the passivhaus PHPP standard for Specific Space Heat Demand.

= 4.75*1000*1741/(3412) = 2423 KWh used per year is what the PH Certificate requires as a max for “Specific Space Heat Demand” (for our 1741/sqft TFA)

Give that we *used* an estimated 2300 KWh (2338) for heating, and given we can estimate our (non hyperheat/h2i) heat pumps at 2.25 COP overall (as a 15% adjustment from the “North Carolina” temp zone rating–I think I looked up once for our unit’s seasonal HSPF… 15% adjustment: as they seem to do in Canada since the COP is temp dependent.)

That would be:

5260 KWh of actual heat *delivered* from the 2338 KWh our minisplits *used*.

So we are 1/2 or 1/3 as good as a passive house I guess. Probably 1/3 since it was a mild winter.

So you can see why people think passivhaus might be extreme. We are talking about $350 (our house) vs $120 (a similar-sized passivhaus) in heating given $0.15/KWh electricity. I still think it makes sense, especially since people are getting practiced at doing it panelized/modular. (See Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity in VT for example.)

– roughly 68F max in winter, roughly 78F max in summer
– I should do a per HDD calc

FUDGE FACTORS (+ or -) in my “1/2 or 1/3 as good as a Passivhaus” calc:
– Weather/climate in PHPP is a 30-year avg. This 2011/2012 winter was mild.
– COP of our heat pump is a guess (maybe I guessed way too low?)
– Previously mentioned guess for % (10%) of heat used for hot water heating
– Some inaccuracy of the emonitor device (vs direct submetering)
– Any errors made in the PHPP (our house used a number of non-certified products… windows, HRV so guesses had to be made)
– Related to above… our windows and HRV are also not as efficient as those typically used in a passivhaus.

That said, obviously there are some houses that don’t use Passivhaus” equipment — like this one — that do MUCH better than the PH standard. Occupant behavior matters a lot.

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2011/12: The year in heating

We have an emonitor gizmo that tracks our home energy use by circuit. One circuit is the air-source minisplit heat pump (the heat and cool in the house).

For the YEAR ending April 2012, the heatpump circuit shows:

3,009 KWh (total for year, heating and cooling and some hot water)
2,598 KWh (Oct-Apr — 7 mostly heating months)

Remember that we also heat our water with an air-to-water heat pump in the conditioned basement, so during the heating months, it is stealing heat from the house. So the 2598 includes some of that. Let’s pretend it is 10% of our total load (no idea) so that would be

2338 KWh (Oct-Apr — mostly heating months. HOME HEATING ONLY)

If we pretend the price we pay for electricity is $0.15/KWh (it’s more complicated than just a simple number like that with this and that charges) but close… then that is:

$350.70 (our estimated heating bill for winter 2011/2012)


(Well, and actually… minus some significant fraction of that which is covered by our PVs (electric solar panels). We don’t have net metering, so our electric bill is rarely $0 even in the summer. I just don’t unclude the PVs cause I generally think of them as an offset. Not an important part of the house.)

– The silly 20KWh/month our minisplit uses whether it is on or not. Nothing to do about that at least in the winter. But I could flip the dip-switch for 5 months of the year.
– Someday I will add a submeter for the minisplits since the emonitor is probably 10% off in some direction. (I believe that’s the spec I’ve seen.)
– More PVs, perhaps this string with a central inverter and small battery for:     – night-time (since no net metering) and
    – power outages (we have a well so it would at LEAST be nice to have running water when the power goes out.)

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Filed under energy, energy-efficiency, erik-green, HVAC, passive house, superinsulation, zero energy home

We’d be net zero but…

Our house would be net zero source energy but…

- well filters: we avg 54 KWh / month
– well pump: 10 Kwh / month
– radon fan: 40 KWh / month
– 2 home offices: 60 KWh / month
– Mitsubishi minisplit: 20 Kwh / month (EVEN WHEN OFF DUE TO A COIL HEATER THINGY!)
– electric lawn mower: (not much, but just sayin’)

What else did I forget?

So that’s 54+10+40+60+20 = 184 KWh / month
= 2208 / KWh per year

… that we can’t help that some other net-zero types of house don’t have since our house has a well and 2 home offices and a mitsubishi mr slim air-source heat pump with what I would consider a design flaw!

We use approximately 10,000 KWh per year for everything (heat, hot water, lighting, cooking, etc.) And our 6.9 KW PV panels make about 8,400 KWh so if we didn’t have the extra 2200 KWh, we’d be easily net zero.

BUT… then there is driving. Someone who lives in a city in and walks everywhere is blowing us away. We drive maybe 15000 miles per year at 20 MPG (minivan). There goes net-zero.

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