A visitor invited inside would be immediately taken with the well-proportioned, sunlit spaces and the clever update of an American classic designed by Alexandria architect David Peabody. Unlike the four-squares of 100 years ago that were chopped up into small and very separate rooms, Peabody’s version is very open, with each quadrant defined by strategically placed closets and columns and ceiling treatment, not walls. In the Klines’ house, the person fixing dinner in the kitchen is not shut off from the activity in the adjacent living and dining areas and entry foyer.
But few would notice the details that make this house rare, among only four in the Mid-Atlantic region: the 7-inch deep window sills and deep-set windows that reveal the unusually thick 9-inch walls.
The Klines’ house was built to the Passive House Institute U.S. standard, and it consumes 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling compared with a conventionally built house of similar size, Peabody said.
The Passive House concept was first developed in Germany about 20 years ago as a way to drastically reduce the cost of home heating by minimizing the amount of heat required. A Passive House achieves this with its thick, well-insulated walls and roof and a near obsessive plugging up of all air leaks during construction. The first Passive House in the United States was built in Urbana, Ill., in 2003. By the end of 2013, Karen Klingenberg, who heads up the Passive House Institute U.S., said her organization will have certified more than 100 houses. The Klines’ house, which was completed in July 2011, was the 23rd.
Peabody said he was initially drawn to the Passive House approach because “it promised energy efficiency that was both astounding and affordable, and energy efficiency is the name of the game for climate issues.” In the United States, building energy use is the biggest source of the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming.
Peabody said he was also drawn to the simplicity of both the Passive House concept and its execution. A Passive House is basically a super-insulated box, and its extreme energy efficiency is achievable with readily available, off-the-shelf parts. “No pricey space-age technology is required,” he said.
But, Peabody realized, to build a house to the Passive House standard and get it certified by the Passive House Institute U.S., he had to work with a home builder who would be open to very different construction techniques and a mechanical engineer who could design a heating and cooling system that could deliver a high level of comfort in Washington’s cold winters and humid summers with a minimum expenditure of energy. Peabody teamed up with Brendan O’Neill Jr. of O’Neill Development, a Gaithersburg firm known for innovation, and Dan Foley, a Lorton-based mechanical engineer.