verre de mer residence: florida’s first passive house
Unfortunately, what was to be Florida’s first passive house will not make it off the drawing boards, but we wanted to share what the home was looking like and a few of the challenges we were facing for certification. The Passivhaus movement was started in Germany by Dr. Wolfgang Feist in 1996 as a super insulated home that uses about 10% of the total energy of typical home that was built to the standards of the 2006 building codes. The majority of the elements used to design and construct a passive house and to be able to achieve these energy savings are physical instead io adding high end mechanical systems, with careful thought given to solar orientation and solar gain, envelope and insulation type, and effective use of area and space. There have been over 20,000 homes built to Passive house standards and the movement has been picking up steam here in the states, with a bit of a setback with some family issues last summer between the founding Passivhaus Institut and its American offspring, Passive House Institute US. With the relationship now severed, PHIUS seems to be full steam ahead with US passive house certifications.
OK, back to our challenge of bringing passive house to Florida and this particular site. Obviously, the climate of Florida differs from that of Germany and the cooler climates of where you would find the majority of US passive houses. The closest passive houses to Florida are in North Carolina and Louisiana. So what makes Florida different? The abundance of warmer days and the HUMIDITY. Passive homes are tightly sealed, so the introduction of humidity can cause a rain forest. For this particular project, one of the things the client wanted to be able to take advantage of are porches and opening up the home to the views of the intracoastal waterway. That process would bring humidity in the home, and we would need to remove it quickly. The addition of a dehumidifier seemed to be the only way to counteract the potential gain. Obviously, the addition of the dehumidifier adds to the cost and energy use, so we thought the best way to balance that and more, would be to add solar panels to the roof.
The orientation of the home allowed for optimum solar panel location, but it added another issue to contend with. The view of the intracoastal. The lot was chosen specifically for the view, see for yourself down below. This beautiful view is almost due west, which means that there would be a pretty harsh sun trying to make its way into the home. The solar gain this would cause would probably be a welcomed side effect, had the home been placed in a cooler climate but not here. So we needed some way to shade all of the openings that allowed for this view. The porches and awnings worked well for the most part, especially when stacked and lend themselves well to the Dutch Indies style of the home.
A few other issues we were dealing with in regard to this house in particular was the size of the home and request of the home being set on piers, off of the ground. One of the first things you can do in minimizing the cost and amount of energy used to heat and cool a home during the design is to minimize the footprint – the smaller it is, the less it takes to warm up and cool down. Not all homes can be this way, while we’re not a fan of McMansions this needed to be a large home. We tried to make the home as efficient as possible in regards to size, even if it was almost 5,000 sf. There were multi-use spaces and no one room was really over-sized. Being energy conscious should not be just for smaller homes, larger homes are still going to be built – so the challenge is to build them in a sustainable way, while trying to decrease the environmental impact as much as possible. Because the home is set on piers, we also need to insulate the bottom floor, and not allow the heat to rise and enter the home from the parking area below. All exterior surfaces have to be carefully designed and allow no air leakage.
Those are just a small few of the issues and constraints we were facing as we strove for the passive house certification, while keeping the home affordable and comfortable with the client’s needs and wants always in mind. We wish we could have seen this project built and we were looking forward to keeping you guys in the loop and progress as it happened, but unfortunately this journey in bringing the passive house to Florida has come to an end.
Please take a look at some of the images of the home and the site below.