It was a sunny and balmy 80 degrees when we went to visit New Mexico’s most energy-efficient house, which was designed and built by Jonah Stanford, principle of Needbased Architect and former president of Passive House Institute US. Built as a live/work space near a reclaimed rail yard, the project is a highlight of the budding contemporary culture scene developing near the historic old town. The recently completed Passivhaus is squarely based in modern design but it fits in neatly with the age-old pueblo style adobe buildings surrounding it. The real story though is how little energy the home consumes while still providing all the necessities for two working parents and their children. Read on to check out our exclusive look at this state-of-the-art home in the middle of the oldest capital in the US.
Santa Fe is the ideal climate for modeling Passivhaus buildings — summers can get hot and dry, while winters are bitterly cold at an elevation well north of 7,000 feet. Luckily, the sun shines a lot, and while this condition isn’t necessary for Passivhaus to be successful, the Balance House is able to take advantage of the great solar exposure, soaking the sun’s heat during the day and keeping it in at night and during inclement weather. The building is carefully shaded in the summer and does not require air conditioning.
With Passivhaus it’s all about the numbers, and this 3400 square foot project has some amazing statistics — using cellulose as insulation, the home’s reduced thermal bridge wall system has an R-value of 52 and the roof is rated at r-97(!), or three times code. Even the concrete floor is super insulated with in-floor radiant heating added for those really cold days. The system is feed by a 700 gallon thermal storage tank and solar thermal panels, which also provide the bulk of the home’s hot water. All this work means that the only backup heating the house needs is a 3000 watt water heating element in the hot water tank.
While the energy numbers are impressive, the quality of the building is where the real fun starts. A core concern for Passivhaus design is the windows and doors – and the Optiwin units used for this project are sophisticated triple-pane and triple-sealed units with a wood and cork core. They are tuned to the building so they do not block the solar radiation to the south but keep the heat in by reducing thermal bridging with a U-value of 0.19 (nearly twice the efficiency of typical new windows). Full-height doors swing out to the enclosed patio but can also be tilted in to provide a fresh breeze. All the home’s windows can do the same thing – a common feature from European manufactures.
The home’s open floor plan keeps the family connected with one office to the side and one across the breeze way. Upstairs, the bedrooms are connected by a common area, and a breezeway stretches over the office. The master bedroom has a walkout porch providing unobstructed views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east. The roof beyond the patio will be filled with soil to create a private garden fed by rain water from the upper story. While the quality of the design is high, the cost were kept to a respectable $135 per square foot, further proving that Passivhaus can be built in the same budget as typical construction but without the ongoing energy bills.
Photos © Andrew Michler for Inhabitat