Seattle's first Passive House "could be heated with a hairdryer"


March 28, 2014

Park Passive House is Seattle's first certified Passive House (Photo: Aaron Leitz)

Park Passive House is Seattle's first certified Passive House (Photo: Aaron Leitz)

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Well, it could theoretically be heated by a hairdryer, at least. While that attention-grabbing headline needn't be taken too literally (it appears to refer to the equivalent energy required for heating), in Park Passive House, NK Architects has produced an energy-efficient and attractive modern family home. It also happens to be Seattle's first certified Passive House, and so will hopefully provide inspiration for more similarly efficient homes to be built in its wake.

Park Passive House was completed in 2013 and sits on an urban infill lot – or a lot that isn't typically considered suitable for building upon, usually due to it being located in an underdeveloped or unattractive area – that measures just 185 sq m (2,000 sq ft).

The three-story house has a total floor space of 251 sq m (2,710 sq ft), which includes four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a large double-vaulted kitchen, a children's play area, and living and dining areas. In a small but nice touch that reflects the environmental focus of the design, a salvaged tree was used for the staircase, wall paneling, and bathroom counter.

NK Architects reports that Park Passive House uses up to 80 percent less overall energy, when compared to an average home built in accordance with today's building code standards. While we've no hard figures concerning the actual energy used while all the amenities are running, Passive House certification is a particularly exacting set of standards to meet for aspiring energy-efficient builds, so we should be able to take the firm at its word.

Park Passive House has an airtight (or very near-airtight) envelope that helps it retain an average indoor temperature of 21ºC (70ºF), which is adjusted with passive ventilation by simply opening and closing windows and doors in summer.

When colder weather hits, the house also sports a heat recovery ventilator, while generous and efficient windows ensure that plenty of natural daylight permeates the interior. In addition, Park Passive House also has a heat pump, lots of insulation, and wiring ready for the installation of solar power (though no solar panels have been installed as of yet).

Source: NK Architects via Arch Daily

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

Wow they used a lot of insulation. A hair drier makes a pretty good space heater.


While I might believe it could be heated by a hairdryer in Seattle, I doubt that would hold up in colder parts of the country. Cooling would be considerably more difficult as well. Such an airtight house sounds positive but is proving to be quite a hazard. You don't want chemical vapors from carpets, furniture, building materials or even radon from accumulating in your living space. Humidity control even becomes a problem in a sealed environment. I would like to read more specifics about how they reduced energy consumption. Given the design, it would require good airflow to maintain temperature throughout the house. Depending on humidity using natural ventilation by opening windows and roof vents is not always a comfortable way to control temperature. One of the best ways to reduce energy consumption is to simply build a smaller house.


Bob, the key to fresh air in a (nearly) airtight house is to use a heat recovery ventilator. It constantly cycles-out waste air from places such as the bathroom and kitchen, and has air inlets in critical areas such as bedrooms. At the outlet, the air goes through a heat-exchanger to capture warmth (in winter) and heat the air as it's pumped through the inlet. During summer, the heat-pump is reversed to aid cooling. Heat-exchanger units usually incorporate a HEPA filter or filtration to a similar standard. It's also the ideal place to regulate humidity. A smart system can be zoned based on activity and time of day, turned-down to maintenance/holiday mode, or turned-up to cater to a large number of visitors. As you said, constant air circulation is important. I agree with you that many houses these days are larger than necessary -- prevention is better than cure, as they say.


Bob, your concerns of indoor air quality is valid. I live in a 1922 California Bungalow that was retrofitted to passive house standards in 2012 and moved in one year ago. We would have moved in a month earlier if the air was clear. Although we were pretty careful with selecting zero VOC paint and benign products for the floors we didn't have a choice for the stain for the fiberglass door. The smell from the stains used for wood trims and fiberglass doors was pretty strong so it was a month before my husband's nose gave OK to occupy the house full time. [Advice for future passive house owners: if you choose fiberglass door for thermal performance be sure to have it stained off-site way ahead of time to let it off-gas before it's installed.]

As for performance, I have data that show passive house does deliver 80% energy reduction. We compared our energy use for the first year of living in our passive house with the energy bills provided to us by previous owner of the house. It did show 80% reduction. You can see the numbers and the energy details on my blog:

And, it is a modest sized house at 1569 square feet or 146 square meters.

Chie Kawahara
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