By the time Christian Valle was asked to build a certified Passive House, his Falmouth design firm had already hit a green-design milestone. The Valle Group earned a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification for sustainable design, the highest certification available through the U.S. Green Building Council. But creating a Passive House is a different honor: Fewer than three dozen such homes have been built in the United States.
The home is sited on a bucolic property on Bourne’s Pond in Falmouth. “The idea was to build a house that had a super-tight building envelope, but at the same time had a very minimal impact on its location, a peninsula on a salt marsh,” Valle recalls. “It needed to be efficient, but without a lot of intrusion.” Today, the two-story, 2,000-square-foot home, built in traditional wood-frame style with 17-inch-thick exterior walls, is an exceptional beauty. A large kitchen opens to a living area, creating a sense of spaciousness in the relatively small house. Each of the two floors sport reclaimed flooring and natural elements, such as stone tile in the bathrooms.
To win the coveted Passive House Institute certification, Valle had to make supreme use of the sun. Large windows on the south side allow for maximum solar gain. On the north side, windows are smaller to reduce the impact of cold air.
A precise energy-efficient system introduces fresh air into the house in a very controlled manner. “Most of the energy that the home consumes is from the sun,” Valle says. Photovoltaic and solar thermal panels provide hot water and electricity. Increasing the insulation are custom-made triple-glazed windows and French doors filled with krypton gas. Except for the windows, all the home’s products were bought from local suppliers and vendors.
The house, with its small footprint amid a landscape of indigenous wetland plants and a lush organic garden, looks like it sprouted on the spot. When your project has nature as a partner, amazing things happen.
Mary Grauerholz is communications manager of the Cape Cod Foundation and a freelance writer.
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