Hardly passive in their convictions about energy conservation, Sarah Evans and her husband Stuart Rue live in the first passive house built in the Pacific Northwest. When they decided in 2009 to build their new home on a vacant lot at the corner of 16th and Nebraska in Northeast Salem, they consulted with the father and son construction firm Bilyeu Homes, Inc., which specializes in green building. Blake Bilyeu was getting certified by the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) and Evans and Rue were excited about the potential energy savings promised by this building technique.
A passive house uses little or no energy for heating and cooling because, according to PHIUS, “A passive house is a very well-insulated, virtually air-tight building” which optimizes heat from people and electrical equipment inside. Heating and cooling are also managed through careful orientation to sunlight and shade, and a sophisticated energy recovery ventilator which provides fresh air and maintains good air quality while minimizing heat loss in cold weather and heat gain in hot weather.
Evans believes that while green energy is important, “[T]here’s not enough talk about the importance of conservation so that we don’t need to use as much energy in the first place. One of the biggest reasons we were attracted to the Passive House idea is because of its focus on conserving energy, which makes good sense and also saves you money during the build as well as in day-to-day use.”
The exterior of the two-story Evans/Rue house fits in with the neighborhood. But the walls are a foot thick and filled with natural cellulose insulation made from 85% recycled paper treated for fire resistance. Windows are triple-paned and doors and windows are tightly sealed. Even the dog door meets passive house specifications for air-tightness. Evans said, “We do most of our heating and cooling through natural means —sunshine through the windows and internal heat gains such as cooking or laundry in the winter, cool air coming through open windows at night during the summer.” Once they achieve the temperature they want, it tends to stay that way.
Bilyeu Homes, which both builds green homes and provides consultation on green building to other contractors, just broke ground on another passive house and is designing a third. Blake Bilyeu sees “a noticeable uptick in the number of local builders that we are working with –even ones who have traditionally been very conservative in their practices. Green building is definitely here to stay, as it makes sense on so many levels, from environmental ones to financial and healthstandpoints as well.“
Evans and Rue moved into their Passive House in May 2010 and received official certification from PHIUS two months later. Their house has been featured in articles, on TV and on green building tours. Since moving in, Evans and Rue have had two children. After living in the house for a year, during which time their first child was born, they had their energy use analyzed by a sustainability consulting firm, Ecotope.
The house performed very well, although there was a noticeable increase in energy use after their son was born. On the“16th & Nebraska” blog they kept during construction (http://blog.stuartrue.com/), Evans attributed the increase to being home with the baby resulting in more use of lights, appliances and electronic equipment, etc. during the day and to doing more laundry. However they were only slightly over the passive house standard. For their children’s sake they gave up their TV, DVD player and other entertainment devices, and hoped to see further energy savings as a byproduct.
On a cold day in February 2011, Evans came home to a warm house and proclaimed on the blog, “I love my passive house. :-)” She told Salem Weekly that, three years later, she still does.