Friday, January 13, 2012

Idaho’s first Passive Energy House open

Public can view pinnacle in energy efficiency


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Members of the public will be able to see a pinnacle of energy efficiency as Idaho's first Passive Energy house throws open its doors this weekend near Fairfield.

The 2,500-square-foot farmhouse in the old township of Solider was built in 1910, but recently underwent a massive renovation that laid the home's foundations bare to install super-dense insulation, gas-filled windows and a ground-based heat exchange system.

Vic Weber, owner of the home and head consultant with the Zeph-ER Group, dedicated to passive home design, said he hopes these systems will reduce heating and cooling costs by 90 percent. Total energy use for the home is expected to drop by 70 percent.

Unlike the more popular Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard, which awards points based on many environmentally friendly choices such as sustainable building materials, the standards of the Illinois-based Passive House Institute focus only on energy consumption.

A passive-energy home uses as little energy as possible by limiting heat loss and reducing energy consumption without using a large amount of expensive solar-powered energy.

Jessica Weber, Vic's wife and co-homeowner, said that though the house isn't complete, there is already a noticeable difference in the house's interior environment.

"It's warm in there!" she said. "The windows alone keep [the house] at 60 degrees. When you're in the house, it's very comfortable."

Jessica also said the temperature within the house is consistent, as opposed to traditional homes that have "hot spots" near heaters and leave the rest of the structure colder.

"You're not running around taking sweaters off and putting them on," she said.

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Incoming air is heated through several methods, including a ground-based heat exchange system through which the natural heat of the ground slightly warms intake air, and another through which exhaust air helps boost the temperature of the intake air.

These systems eliminate the central furnace and make the home's air far fresher than anything in a house built to standard code, Vic said, as the system brings a constant stream of fresh air into the home.

"Can you imagine flushing all your air out when it's negative 20 [degrees] outside?" he said. "People won't do it. So they stay inside with the cruddy air, and that's why people get sick in the winter."

The home also takes advantage of solar-powered radiant heat systems in the bedrooms and a solar hot-water heater.

All of these energy-efficient systems will be easy to view, Jessica said, as the drywall in the home has not yet been put up.

"This is the time to see it if you're interested," she said. "Once the drywall is up, everything is covered."

The home will be open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and interested parties can direct themselves around the home with the help of interpretive signs. Jessica said she has already had tours from Wood River High School and Camas County High School, while an Idaho Power representative will stop by today,

"It is pretty cool," she said. "We're hoping we'll get a good turnout."

For directions to the home, visit www.zeph-er.com or call 208-764-2820.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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