Setting a new standard for energy efficient homes

Daryl Owens, builder Farley Pedler and their daughter Kazmira at the kitchen counter/dining table of their new home.
Photo by Tony Omer

Daryl Owens, builder Farley Pedler and their daughter Kazmira at the kitchen counter/dining table of their new home.

The Pedler house in West Tisbury is one of only one hundred certified passive homes in the US.

Certified passive is not a psychological condition. It is the highest energy efficient standard used in home building today, according to Farley Pedler, owner of Farley Built, Inc. (formerly Drews Cove Builders). In May, Mr. Pedler, his wife, Daryl Owens, and their twenty-month-old daughter, Kazmira, moved into a finely appointed 800-square-foot, certified passive home he built on Doctor Fisher Road in West Tisbury. The home is one of one hundred certified passive homes in the United States.

“I have built seven homes on Martha’s Vineyard in the last couple of years that use energy efficient design and construction elements that far exceed the building code requirements,” Mr. Pedler said. “But our house is more energy efficient than any of those.”

Few cost saving measures were used in the modern looking interior of the architect-designed house. Mr. Pedler said the house would cost over $400,000 if he hadn’t built the house himself. He said the energy efficient aspects of the house added about ten to fifteen percent to the total cost.

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Photo courtesy Steven Baczek

The Pedler’s new certified passive house has a fifteen foot high interior peak giving it a sense of being larger than its 800 square feet of floor space.

The Pedler house has a large multipurpose room that incorporates a living room, kitchen, and dining area with a half bath. There is an expanse of windows on the south side, facing a large yard of new grass and woods beyond. The bedroom is a separate room with a full bath that takes up about a third of the total floor space. There is a loft area above the bedroom. The mechanicals are in the full, partially finished basement along with laundry and storage areas.

The house uses a energy recovery ventilator that is connected to a geothermal system. Tubing buried around the perimeter of the house maintains a constant exchange of air with little heat loss, but also conditions the air by removing excess moisture. The heating requirements for the house, even in the dead of winter, are so minimal that a water source heat pump designed to heat a small boat was used.

Mr. Pedler said that he expects to incur only about $1,600 in total energy expenses per year in the new house, while the owner of a conventional built house its size could expect to spend at least $4,000.

The house is wired and plumbed for solar panels that Mr. Pedler said he plans to add in the future. The panels could produce more energy than the house uses, eliminating energy costs.

A passive energy efficient home is built to optimize heat gain in the winter by locating the building so that the windows allow the most amount of sunlight possible. It is super-insulated to retain that heat for as long as possible. In the summer, when the sun is higher in the sky, less sunlight hits the windows and an awning system will be used to block the sun and keep the building cool.

To be certified passive, a house must meet standards set by the non-profit Passive House Institute US (PHIUS), a national organization committed to making high-performance passive building the mainstream market standard. “Only about 100 houses have been certified to date in the United States, and there are at least that many now under construction,” Michael Knezovich, PHIUS director of communications, told The Times.

Mr. Knezovich said PHIUS uses standards first developed in Germany, where thousands of houses have met the stringent requirements. They also use a German computer-modeling program to determine the design’s passive capabilities before construction begins.

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Photo courtesy Steven Baczek

The upstairs loft of the house.

In order to achieve the certified rating, Mr. Pedler was required to hire a PHIUS certified consultant who helped guide the process from design through construction, and a third party PHIUS certified inspector who made multiple inspections during the course of construction. The house plans had to meet minimum standards when cranked through the computer-modeling program. Four blower door tests, where a large exhaust fan is used to detect leaks, were conducted to test the efficiency of the construction at key points during construction.

Mr. Pedler hired an architect with certified passive design experience, Steven Baczek of Reading, who is now working on his fifth certified passive home design. Mr. Baczek told The Times, ”Mr. Pedler’s house is an energy efficient house on steroids.” He said there are four major areas of concern when designing passive homes that breed success or failure: the mechanical elements and materials, air sealing, windows and doors, and insulation.

Mr. Baczek said that meeting with the building team before the design is complete is an important step in getting everyone on the same page. “We try to keep our window of heat loss for the entire project to less than the size of a playing card. Any mistake during construction can open that window.” He said that he hopes his designs will not only help set a new standard for energy efficiency, but will produce homes that will still be relevant in 150 years.

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Photo courtesy Steven Baczek

The house’s southern exposure has the most glass to increase the solar heat gain in the winter. The lower walls are 20 inches thick and filled with insulation.

The Pedler family wanted to buy land in Chilmark, where they rented for four years, but real estate in Chilmark was more than they could afford, so they settled on four plus acres just north of the West Tisbury school in West Tisbury. “Our new house will become our guest house when we win the lottery and build our big house,” Mr. Pedler said, half joking. He said for him, the new house is as much a learning exercise for the future main house as it is a place for them to live. He hopes to begin on the main house in a couple of years.