For our last field trip of the quarter our class visited the Warren Woods Ecological Field Station in Southwest Michigan. A good portion of our trip involved visiting the passive house on the residence, which is set to include the first laboratory in a passive house certified building in the United States. Before I went on this field trip I had never heard of a passive house but I left thinking it was a pretty cool idea, so I thought I would share some interesting information about the passive house concept and the one being built at Warren Woods.
The underlying concept behind passive houses is to both minimize the amount of energy lost from the building and to reduce the amount of energy used to power the building. Buildings that meet passive house standards use 80 percent less energy than conventional buildings and are able to maintain nearly the same temperature throughout the warm and cools seasons without requiring mechanical conditioning of the air. This saves resources, occupational costs, and cuts down on pollution contributing to global warming.
This probably seems like a pretty crazy idea to most of us Americans who are used to freezing in intensely air-conditioned buildings in the middle of July. Yet it is possible and has been done quite frequently in Europe since as early as the 1990s. The idea has just recently started to become more popular in the U.S. In order to produce such significant energy savings, passive houses require greater insulation to prevent the indoor air from escaping. Walls are usually twice as thick as walls used in conventional buildings. Passive house architects try to eliminate any gaps that might prevent air from escaping and design windows and doors in such a way that prevents air escape. In order to supply fresh air to the building, boxes called heat recovery ventilators (HRV) are installed, which recycle the indoor air and constantly blow out fresh, filtered air. This ensures cleaner, more temperature-controlled air than that of a traditional building.
While upfront costs for passives houses are likely greater than in traditional buildings, the energy savings that occur in the long-term can actually help building owners save significantly more money than they would in a traditional building. To learn more about the cost-benefit analysis of passive houses see GO Logic’s “Financial Benefits of Investing in a Passive House”.
In fact, GO Logic helped design the Warren Woods passive house, which is a collaboration project with the University of Chicago. This building will serve as a field station for researchers, a seminar house, and will include several cabins for scientists to sleep in while conducting experiments. This is what the building will look like when finished:
 “What is Passive House?” Passive House Alliance United States, http://www.phaus.org/learn/passive-house-education/what-is-passive-house-
 “The Financial Benefits of Investing in a Passive House,” GO Logic, http://www.gologic.us/passivhaus/cost-benefit-of-a-passive-house/.
Here are a few photographs of what it looks like now, kindly contributed by Alison and Hannah F: