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Texas Builder’s Passion for Passive House Comes to Life

Most people would assume it makes zero sense to build a passive house in a hot, humid climate. The indoor/outdoor temperate differences aren’t as extreme as they tend to be in other climate zones.

But a passive house still offers a huge performance increase from traditional building methods, and a great improvement in the indoor air quality – a major attraction to homeowners. Not to mention the reduction in energy bills. In a cold climate, a passive house is projected to reduce energy expenses by 90%. In a hot climate, more like 70%*.  Still a signifiant savings, and worth the investment in additional time and materials up front.

 

Choosing Investment vs. Expense

From the financial side, the theory is that you’re spending more money on performance, then that money gets divided over the life of your mortgage. If you can spend $30 more a month on a mortgage, while achieving $100 savings a month in utilities – you’re at a major advantage.

Not only does it make a lot of sense, it’s something energy efficient builder Mark Larson, CPHC, Built Green Texas, can readily convey to his clients as a professional builder and consultant. 

“When you allocate your money this way, you’re choosing to invest in the value of your home, not the expense of living in it.

-Mark Larson, CPHC, builder, Built Green Custom Homes, Austin, Texas, and homeowner

 

Performance Metrics Make the Difference

Mark Larson started his career in corporate real estate. He decided to make the leap into building because he loved that side of the business. If he was going to completely change careers and build houses, he wanted them to be the best ones on the market.

That’s how he discovered passive house design. It’s the most stringent building metric in the world, but also the only one that is performance based. It’s not prescriptive like LEED, meaning certified to operate a certain way in theory. Passive houses MUST perform as they are designed, or they don’t achieve passive house certification. They have to hit certain metrics for air tightness, measured with a “blower door test”.  The fact that the performance is completely measurable was much of the appeal.

“I’m a huge fan of performance based metrics – which is exactly what passive house offers. I knew my family would live and breathe in the highest indoor air quality. It really matters.”

-Mark Larson, CPHC, builder, Built Green Custom Homes, Austin, Texas, and homeowner

 

Blower Door Testing

IAQ Texas conducted the initial blower door testing. But Mark didn’t get the results he was hoping

for, so he employed his own blower door contraption to help find leaks. Mark used a 2500 cfm construction ventilation fan and taped roof underlayment around the door opening.

He found some opportunities for better air sealing between the top plates, and at plate boards butted together. The attic hatch was also a source of leaks. Zip tape was sealed into a 90 degree corner, but air leaked out the ends of the length of tape. Some random nail holes and a few casements windows needed slight adjustments to better seal when closed.

Once those changes were made, Mark’s passive house rater from ATS Engineering did another blower door test before adding interior insulation. These results surpassed Mark’s expectations, and made it below the Passive House metric of .6ACH, and hit .57ACH. (via instagram, Feb 1, 2019). This figure is expected to drop even lower once interior insulation and drywall are added.

The Building Envelope

Mark spent a significant amount of time researching the materials he wanted to use for his home. For the building envelope, he used 2″ x 6″ studs, 16″ on center, Zip sheathing, Rockwool ComfortBoard exterior insulation, and Alpen windows. He had discovered ThermalBuck years prior, and was excited about finally having the chance to use it on his own home.

“ThermalBuck simplifies the water, air, and thermal control layers of window and door installation. It solves a specific problem of how and were to flash windows within continuous insulation. ThermalBuck will always be a tool in my design toolbox to solve the complexities of “outies” in CI,” said Larson. 

“It solves a specific problem of how and were to flash windows within continuous insulation.”

-Mark Larson, CPHC, builder, Built Green Custom Homes, Austin, Texas, and homeowner

 

Passive House Austin

Mark is part of a dedicated group of building industry professionals working to make passive design well-known in the Texas market. Passive House Austin promotes the principles of passive design through events, podcasts, workshops, and most notably, the Humid Climate Conference. Held annually in Austin, the Humid Climate Conference recently featured Joe Lstiburek, widely recognized as the leading building science expert in the industry. It draws building professionals from all over the South, to focus on issues specifically related to their climate – offering a huge benefit over national or international events.

To learn more about Passive House Austin, and view more photos from the recent Huber sponsored happy-hour event at Mark Larson’s passive house build with IAQ Texas and Positive Energy, click here.


Helpful Links & More Info:

Mark Larson Instagram
Built Green Custom Homes, Austin Texas
Passive House Alliance – US

* homebuilder estimates from personal research

You Could Win the Most Energy Efficient House in VT!

Ready for a major life change? Then this contest is definitely worth a look. Green Mountain Power is giving away the most energy-efficient house in Vermont. Sharpen up your keyboard, and submit a 500 word essay detailing why you want to live in the Rutland Innovation House, and how you would contribute to the vibrant Rutland community  – and you have the opportunity to win.

 

The GMP Rutland Innovation Home Contest

The GMP Innovation Home provides a unique opportunity to promote energy-efficient building, and to showcase the beautiful town of Rutland, Vermont. Rutland County is experiencing significant growth, and needs to attract talented people to enhance this vibrant community to fill the demands for a skilled workforce. It’s a beautiful area of Vermont, with great schools, a strong local business sector, vibrant downtown and a strong creative community.

“We’re giving folks all around the country the opportunity to submit a reason why they should be the ones to live in this amazing house.”
-Mary Powell, CEO, Green Mountain Power 

 

 

The House & Building Materials

Green Mountain Power, Naylor & Breen Builders, NBF Architects, and the United Way of Rutland County, developed this unique contest to give away a brand new, fossil fuel-free home to promote the latest in technology and green building. This impressive collaboration features more than 60 local businesses and national building material suppliers, like ThermalBuck, working together to promote the future of green building.

“I look forward to welcoming into the neighborhood whoever is lucky enough to move into that house.”
-Carol Tashie, Rutland Vermont resident, via GMP 

 

The house itself, is a 1,500 sq. foot traditional New England farmhouse featuring the latest in smart-home technology, and the high-performance building materials needed to conserve energy. Building material supplier R.K. Miles will be installing their trademarked R-Wall System, featuring The Henry Company Blueskin WRB, Rockwool Comfortboard mineral wool exterior insulation, 3.0″ ThermalBuck insulating window buck, and Marvin Windows & Doors.

ThermalBuck is proud to be a part of this project, and will be documenting the installation to share via our social media sites. To keep up with the progress each week, follow us on your preferred account:

  ThermalBuck.BRINC          thermalbuck_windowbuck            @ThermalBuck           ThermalBuck 

 


Contest Details

Not only will could you win this energy-efficient house, but the people of Rutland want to help you build your life here. You’ll be connected with a local “concierge” to provide assistance with job searches, a warm welcome from business and personal contacts,  and free co-working space at GMP’s Energy Innovation Center in downtown Rutland. Free house, new job, new community, new life. Why not?

Curious to learn more about life in Rutland? There are plenty of great resources around  – let’s get started!

 

Ready for change? Get your entry in before the deadline May 25, 2018. Contest details & official rules available at greenmountainpower.com.

 


Green Mountain Power is described as an “energy transformation company” providing power and innovative products and services to most of Vermont. Their focus is to help people use less energy and save money, while at the same time, continuing to meet the existing energy needs of their customers by generating clean, affordable energy. GMP was recently named a Top 10 Innovative Company in Energy. Read more here