A California architect has constructed a home that heats itself from the warmth of its appliances. Homes like this have been popular in Germany, where a local architect built the first of its kind in 1991, but they are only just starting to catch on here in the States.
Nabih Tahan’s “Passive House” on Grant Street in Berkeley is the first one in California. It uses a ventilator to recycle the heat that radiates from the appliances, reducing the use of heat from fossil fuels by 80%-90%.
Passive House Design
In order to utilize ambient heat from appliances, the house needs to be incredibly well insulated. It’s essentially air tight, allowing the ventilation system to trap the heat and distribute it throughout the home. Passive homes have specific design requirements, such as “superinsulation” and superwindows.
It would be extremely expensive to retrofit a house as a passive house, making it more suited to new construction or a home that is undergoing a massive renovation. Even with the energy savings, it would take a long time to break even on the investment with a retrofit. The architect behind the passive house in Berkeley said:
By doing smaller insulating renovations, you can improve energy consumption and you’ll definitely make a difference. But to get to Passive House standards, you really have to either rip out the outside or the inside of the house.
Improving Your Own Home’s Energy Usage
Homeowners can still take some lessons from passive house construction, even if they can’t afford a huge renovation. According to the US Department of Energy, over 1/3 of Americans’ energy bills goes towards heating their homes. Something as simple as sealing cracks around doors and windows can make a big difference in the amount of electricity or gas you’re using to keep your home warm. Many power companies provide cheap or even free home energy audits to help determine where you need additional sealing and insulation. There are a number of inexpensive things you can do to improve your home’s efficiency.