What’s the difference? Can I make my house a passive house? Will it be a smarter home? Ahh, there is a difference. While zero energy building (passive housing) is a target goal for some, they are feasible for others. Not to confuse a net zero energy building which is a building that over a year does not use more energy than it generates. Smarter homes use technology to avoid wasting energy and keep a watchful eye on your home. A passive home can be a smarter home.
Passive homes retain energy capacity by use of solar or wind power and constructed with well insulated walls, windows and doors. They are built with careful air barriers to prevent any air leaks (examine “blower door” testing). Other zero energy systems use “active” technology by mechanical equipment that brings the building to zero energy. Some active systems rely on electric supply to mechanical equipment where costs are greater up front and less throughout the year. Radiant floor heat and tight building envelope make your home more comfortable. Quality design is paramount with timber or heavy-gauge steel frames. Homes need to be built with incredible strength, quality and durability for high performance in extreme weather conditions, including hurricane-level wind zones (up to 150 mph), extreme snow loads, and challenging soil and marine moisture environments. This makes the insulation and water infiltration process substantial. Most passive homes are new for cost efficiency, although large refurbishments can sustain passive design.
Passive homes have been around for decades in Europe. The essentials are advanced window technology, air tightness and ventilation. Passively designed buildings are essentially air-tight and the rate of air change can be optimized and carefully controlled. All things considered there are many things we have done to preserve the temperature and humidity to live comfortably. Other considerations are the use of a geothermal system and sustainable lighting using low energy sources. Geothermal using Ground Source Heat Pumps is a system that could entitle you to a US federal tax rebate on the complete cost of the system. Of course, in order to receive this rebate the proposed Ground Source Heat Pump installed must be certified and Energy Star accredited. Up front costs are higher, but the utility costs are significantly less.
To put things into perspective Germany has advanced almost a decade ahead of Ireland and other nations in the development of leading renewable energy technology. Passive house standards have been around since the late 1980s. The US has just started to come around to using this technology.
Smarter home devices can be retrofitted into your existing home. A smart home is an efficient home. It’s smart because the advances in of our technology have resulted in devices that can attach to our lights, detect door openings, sensors that react to your movements to turn on a radio or TV, thermostats that recognize our habits, and gadgets that monitor water usage in your shower. We now have plug-ins that shut off electrical outlets after your devices have fully charged, and can be monitored from anywhere with the use of an app. Have you seen the sprinkler that aims at individual plants, not to waste water? It also tracks weather patterns and adjusts. How about a moisture sensor that lets you know a pipe burst in the house, or that the tub is overflowing. Most of these items were invented from reactive thoughts to get the coffee going early or turning on security cameras when motion was evident.
Some smarter homes are using plants for air filtration, air conditioners that adjust to your usage, sun shades that protect, and customizable lights that save energy. Cloud computing has increased the ability to control many devices over wi-fi. Now there are firms that are creating new uses and able to apply them through a hub. The hubs range between US $100 to $300. Soon we will see smart electric meters that track electricity flow and usage in your house from appliance to appliance for better control of brown outs.