Preserving the Environment

The Future of Housing Is Now. What Sustainable Homes Look Like

November 2, 2015
The Future of Housing Is Now. What Sustainable Homes Look Like
The Kiln Apartments in Portland, Ore. Photo by Pete Eckert
Passive housing proves that living comfortably on this planet doesn't have to destroy it.

Every time your air conditioner or furnace rumbles on, greenhouses gases spew into the air. All those volts —about 10,900 kilowatt-hours per person — used to charge laptops and phones, light rooms, and keep the refrigerator running don’t come without an environmental cost. American electricity generation contributed 2.04 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2014, clouding the earth’s atmosphere with emissions and worsening climate change.

A hot new trend in architecture may offer one of our best hopes for significantly diminishing that pollution. “Passive house” construction — usually built without central heating or cooling systems — can reduce energy usage to net-zero or even net-positive, meaning a building generates more energy than it consumes. Applicable to both commercial and residential properties, passive construction centers on five key design elements: heavily insulated walls (sometimes up to 15 inches thick), an extremely tight envelope, triple-paned windows and doors that are outfitted with high-performance locks, high-tech ventilation and moisture-recovery systems filter the air and solar panels on rooftops.

“There are no drafts in the winter. And in the summer, it stays cool without strong air conditioning blowing on you,” Jane Sanders, a Brooklyn architect, tells the New York Post about her home. “This morning, there was jackhammering two doors down from me, but I could barely hear it. It’s so quiet that I feel like I live in the country.”

Some homeowners will take objection with the boxy design; others will balk at the price tag. But as more passive homes are built, architects are experimenting with chic design and developing cheaper construction methods. NationSwell looked into five of the most interesting passive houses in America today.