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Touring a Foam-Free Passive House Project in Wayland, MA

The view of the Wayland passive house project from the driveway.

The view of the Wayland passive house project from the driveway.

By Stephen Dotson

On August 7, the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) organized a BuildingEnergy Pro Tour of a 2,500-square-foot home that will be the first certified passive house in Wayland, MA. BuildingEnergy Pro Tours are half-day tours of high-performance homes all over the Northeast led by members of the project teams behind them, concluding with a reception and workshop or Q&A session. Pro Tours are an opportunity for sustainable building professionals to get to see projects in progress with their own eyes, share knowledge, and learn from colleagues.

This particular Pro Tour was led by NESEA members and tour hosts Nick Falkof and Mike Dutra from Auburndale Builders; Michael Hindle, the project’s Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC); Mike Duclos, the PHIUS+ rater for the project; and Donald Grose, the project designer. The project team welcomed a group of 81 to peek inside the yet-unfinished home and learn about its energy modeling, construction process, siting, and much more.

Prior to this project, the preexisting house was deconstructed piece by piece and the materials donated to a local nonprofit for reuse. Once cleared, the lot needed to be oriented to accommodate a wetland area and a buffer zone required by code. This added complexity to a project that already defied many expectations of what was possible with passive house design.

The home will be certified through PHIUS to meet the passive standards, which have recently become more climate-specific. On its way to meeting those standards, the project team went to lengths to ensure that the insulation of the house was an entirely foam-free enclosure, due to concerns of the greenhouse gas impact of foam products. In terms of generation, the new home will eventually be powered by a photovoltaic array on an adjacent lot and generate more energy than it uses.

Besides its passive house credentials, one of the most important aspects for the client was that the house be designed to be resilient and remain accessible for the clients as they age in place. In addition to the energy and carbon footprint, the rainwater from the house will be harvested and used for irrigation via a large cistern on the property.

One notable challenge was handling the potential for radon. How does one ensure that the tightness of a passive house isn’t keeping in this harmful gas? This required special attention to the foundation, thermal bridging, and envelope, combined with a unique sump-pump solution to clear the home of any potential radon.

One of the most popular features of the Wayland passive house: the passive pet door!

One of the most popular features of the Wayland passive house: the passive pet door!

Perhaps one of the more interesting features of the project was the inclusion of a door for pets that met passive house standards! The door was custom-built by Auburndale’s own Mike Dutra and enables entry and exit by the client’s cats without loss of heat.

The tour concluded with a reception and a presentation entitled “Going Foam-Free in Passive Construction” by Michael Hindle, who is also president of the Passive House Alliance-US.

NESEA’s Program and Developer Director, Miriam Aylward, organized the event and reflected afterwards:

“This was our first ever sold-out Pro Tour, which speaks to the caliber of the project … everything from the foam-free enclosure, to the passive house cat door and innovative radon detection system generated lively discussion and authentic learning.”

Due to demand, the hosts of this tour have agreed to run a second Pro Tour on Friday, November 6, 2015. Whether you have been to the tour already, or if you were not able to snag a spot on this one, it will be exciting to see this great project three months further along.

To register for the November 6 Pro Tour, visit www.nesea.org/11-06-15. Also, in the early fall of 2015, NESEA will be sending out a request for proposal (RFP) for projects to include on Pro Tours in 2016. To make sure you get the RFP, join NESEA! Hosting a Pro Tour is a NESEA member benefit.

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