This week, I taught my mother to switch from the phrase “global warming” to “climate change” – the second being a more accurate description of the phenomenon in general, which doesn’t allow people to dismiss it off-hand when they look out at the 21 inches of snow in their front yards. It also alludes to the sort of meteorological mood swings that lead to 50 degree days in late December, following those 21 inches of snow, which then lead to me spending a day pulling up the carpet in the flooded basement of my parents’ house. Climate change and I are going to have a talk.

To cheer myself up a bit and take my mind off things, I’m going to tell you about another sort of house, one which is much more ecologically friendly and, as I understand it, dryer. Passive houses are taking off in Europe, and particularly in Germany, where companies like the Passivhaus Institut have been constructing these types of homes for the last 12 years.

Passive houses use thick insulation and specially designed doors and windows, and have an airtight seal that prevents warm air from escaping and cold outside

A thermogram compares the heat escaping from a passive house (on right) as opposed to a traditional building (on left).

A thermogram compares the heat escaping from a passive house (on right) as opposed to a traditional building (on left).

air from coming in. Rather than a furnace, the houses employ a heat exchanger and the kind of ventilation system that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but would make my engineer friends pretty excited. So far, about 15,000 have been constructed. Most of them are in Europe, particularly Germany and the Scandinavian countries, but they are beginning to slowly make their way to America. Since the heat exchangers and other specialized parts are not readily available in the States yet, the price of construction is higher here so far, but eventually the cost would drop to only 5 to 7 percent higher than traditional construction (the current rate in Germany).

Hopefully, this trend will keep rising and spreading, and we’ll see many, many more of these houses in the USA. My only warning would be that, if they’re building in Michigan: I recommend linoleum in the basement. Trust me.

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