A Year in a High-Performance Home


| 10/22/2014 10:04:00 AM


In a leap of faith, a year ago my family joined Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine, a 36-unit multigenerational community on 42 acres. My husband and I loaded all our possessions into a truck and uprooted our two young children as we moved from Wisconsin to a quaint coastal community. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by friendly neighbors who helped us unload and unpack. Our children began exploring the property and we all began building friendships within our community. We instantly enjoyed living in our new high-performance home because sunlight fills our living space, fresh air circulates throughout the home and our utility bills are very low.

All Belfast Ecovillage homes are built to the passive house standard (although not certified), so we use 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than the typical code-built home. The solar orientation and huge triple-pane windows and doors allow the sun to passively heat our home. The cement slab absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night when the temperature drops, helping to maintain more even temperatures. Generous amounts of insulation and virtually airtight construction allow the heating system to remain idle much of the time. Our heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system constantly supplies a stream of fresh air to the bedrooms, while removing stale air from the kitchen and bathroom.

Belfast Cohousing Ecovillage 

Fresh Indoor Air

Most conventional homes leak lots of air out of the home, thus losing heat and creating drafts in the winter. Because homes built to the passive house standard are virtually airtight, they would have air-quality issues if there wasn’t mechanical ventilation. Exhaust fans are not energy-efficient in cold climates because they vent heated air out of the home without capturing the heat, so our home doesn’t have an exhaust fan in the bathroom or a range hood in the kitchen.

Instead, we have a Zehnder HRV system, which constantly brings fresh, tempered outdoor air into the bedrooms and removes stale air from the kitchen and bathroom. These systems are up to 95 percent efficient in capturing heat from the exhaust air before it leaves the home and transferring it to the incoming air, so we can have both fresh air and energy efficiency, even on the coldest days of the year.



Energy Efficiency

Despite the cold Maine climate, we haven’t needed to use our heating system until late October or early November. On sunny days in winter, our home can heat up 10 degrees or more solely from the sun, with the heating system turned off. Even on winter nights, our heating system turns on sparingly because of generous amounts of insulation in the walls, ceiling and slab; an energy-efficient standing-seam roof; and triple-pane windows and doors.



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