Heidelberg home built to be extremely energy efficient

Megan Guza
| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

A home at 1606 Railroad St. in Heidelberg built by ACTION-Housing Inc. became just the 45th house in the country to receive certification as a “Passive House.”

A Passive House is one designed to meet very low thresholds of energy use for heating and cooling and total energy usage. Certification is through the Passive House Institute U.S. of Urbana, Ill.

“To be Passive House certified, there are very specific performance standards,” said Lina Metropulos, senior housing development officers at ACTION-Housing, based Downtown.

She said the process involves two steps: To design the house to meet those standards, and to test it at the end of construction.

“The way to achieve that in these houses is that the houses are super insulated and very close to airtight,” said Michael Whartnaby, of Thoughtful Balance Architects of Shadyside, who helped design the house.

“This building in Heidelberg probably has about five times the insulation of a typical new home in the region.”

Whartnaby said there are three other tenets to producing this type of energy-efficient home. The first is to keep the building virtually airtight.

“We take great care with the windows,” he said. “We want to maximize solar gain in the winter, but they need to be oriented so you're not getting excess heat in the summer.”

The windows used in the Heidelberg home are triple-glazed.

Because the home is nearly airtight, it relies on a mechanical ventilation system to circulate and bring in fresh air. Whartnaby said through this particular ventilation system, the air in the house is replaced in its entirety every three hours.

Lastly, the home also relies on the most energy-efficient appliances possible to keep the total energy use down.

The home, which doesn't have or need a furnace, was completed in October and uses more than 80 percent less energy than the average home. It is the first in Western Pennsylvania to receive the designation.

“In driving down energy costs and what it costs monthly to operate the house, we're also helping to ensure we're keeping the place affordable,” Metropulos said. The Heidelberg home was sold and is occupied.

Whartnaby said the estimated cost of operating the house for a year is just $905.

“That includes everything ­— heating, cooling, lighting,” he said. “People will say it seems like a lot of effort to do all those things, but the payoff is, maybe not total freedom from utility costs, but pretty darn close.”

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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