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"A society built on green design, sustainable energy and closed loop systems, a civilization afloat on a cloud of efficient, non-toxic, recyclable technology." ~~Alex Nikolai Steffan



As a big fan of the Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka, the article in this week's USA Today's Earth Day edition (four whole pages) was interesting as an experiment in downsizing as well as a look at a couple's adventure in building a 'green home.'  Smaller?  yes.  Solar and geo-thermal? no. Wind power? no.  But, the construction of the 2500 square foot home will include material selections that will result in a house that is so well insulated, together with mechanical ventilation improvements, that it will qualify as energy efficient through passive energy design. 

A building standard in Germany and emerging in the US, the Passive House is a comprehensive system that places its emphasis on creating a tight envelope that is very well-insulated, and virtually air-tight, that is primarily heated by passive solar gain and by internal gains from people, electrical equipment, etc. thereby minimizing energy losses. 

Any remaining heat demand is provided by an extremely small source. Avoidance of heat gain through shading and window orientation also helps to limit any cooling load, combined with ventilation that provides a constant, balanced fresh air supply. The result is a system that can save up to 90% of space heating costs, while providing improved indoor air quality.

Components of the home featured in USA Today include a white membrane roof to reflect daylight, low VOC paint, a metal roof made of recycled materials, gutters to redirect rainwater to a cistern, exterior walls with insulation value of R26, cement fiber siding with recycled content, concrete masonry, landscaping with native plants and no grass, glass faced to the southern exposure with shade overhangs and fiberglass serious windows with R5 casements.  

Deep research on passive houses can be found compiled by the Passive House Institute is here.  The Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) is a consulting and research firm working to further the implementation of Passive House standards and techniques nationwide by:
• Constructing, measuring, and verifying performance of Passive Houses in all US climate zones
• Contributing to the development of minimized mechanical systems for heating, cooling, and dehumidification
• Creating design guidelines for Passive Houses in all climate zones
• Providing energy calculation and consulting services

As of January 2008, PHIUS is authorized by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt as the official Certifier of Passive Houses in the US.


Size matters, particularly when considering embedded resource use. Seems to me a home in the 300 sq ft per occupant range ought to be sufficient to provide necessary shelter. About 1200 sq ft for a family of 4 should suffice.

We were "sold" on BIG, now lets (re)sell small is beautiful.



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