Virtual Reality (VR) was born as a tool for gaming. It enables people to immerse into a new dimension while playing their favourite games. The extraordinary characteristics of VR give users the chance to get thrown into a new, digitally constructed reality, which resembles real life. But the gaming industry is not the only place where VR is useful. Coping with reality is a real challenge for professionals working in the construction industry: it is indeed very well-known, when projects come to life, they can be threatened by a high amount of inefficiencies that result in low profit margins.

Many of the problems found in the construction industry are directly correlated with the inability of field personnel, designers, architects and engineers to truly experience a project before it is built. This creates costly issues, and in many instances work has to be stopped or paused as construction teams stumble upon errors which couldn’t be seen on paper. Essentially, construction professionals have to use a flat 3D model, rather than immersive technology, to visualise how alike a finalized project would be to the initial plans when complete.

VR’s use today is shifting from gaming to other, more practical applications. VR can indeed enable professionals in any industry, but particularly in the construction industry, with an incredible tool that gives them the chance to immerse themselves in a project before spending months, if not years, constructing it.

The challenges of the construction industry

Starting from pen and paper, the construction industry has always been based on tools that enable designers to preview and analyse images and ideas, allowing them to plan which actions should be taken to physically assemble a model.

New technologies have recently been developed to project these ideas in a three-dimensional space; these new advances have profoundly revolutionized the construction sector, helping professionals from all over the world have better and more precise insights on the technical specificities of their projects. Technology such as computer-aided design (CAD), as well as 3D modelling and Building Information Modelling (BIM), are often used to show clients formats, spaces, and systems before a brick is laid.

However, previewing paper and flat computer-generated details still only provides practitioners with a limited experience of the finished building: certain faults related to construction and design arise only when the construction process has already started, and these issues force practitioners to stop work and re-assess the feasibility of the construction. These problems are usually very difficult to spot on a digitally generated image, as even 3D models, due to their lack of depth, cannot visualise clearly exactly how the building or facility will look and feel like when built. Often, these shortcomings also affect business relationships as the designer’s vision for the completed structure fails to match the client’s: when on paper, in fact, it is very difficult for the client to communicate their exact needs, and at times the finalized project doesn’t correspond to the desired outcome.

Virtual Reality. Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-simulated environment that allows you to interact in a realistic and/or physical way within the environment. An example of virtual reality in construction is interactive 3D modeling that allows you to manipulate the model to test the effect of changes before making them in the real world, which are available from companies like Autodesk via offerings like Revit Live for software and HTC’s Vive for hardware.

Virtual Reality: a solution to these issues

Virtual Reality, as it was designed for gaming, is a tool that can immerse a person inside a virtually constructed environment. 3D modelling and BIM programs, which made huge advancements in the field of project modelling, can now be adapted to VR tools, to visualise a fully virtual representation of an idea in a new dimension at a relatively low cost point. Put simply, the user sees a 3D display through a headset and can get an ‘all-round’ view by turning their head to the side, up and down. For Victaulic’s clients, they can even look “up” and see the headers and distribution piping, visualizing it’s about visulation but what separates VR from 3D is that you can feel it every piece of pipe as if it were hard piped in.

The most obvious benefit of virtual reality for construction firms is that it can save time and money by allowing construction professionals to test any number of features before works starts.  The VR headset allows all parties involved in the construction phase to identify potential conflicts or required changes at the design stage, rather than during construction, when they’re extremely costly to put right. Construction professionals can literally “walk inside” their project with the entire piping system installed and have the ability to spot any fault that they would not have been able to identify on a flat model on a laptop. VR helps guide their judgement, and can confirm whether the designed structure resembles exactly what they had in mind, providing a much clearer idea of whether a building will be fit for purpose and without significant faults.

In addition to this, the client can experience the project virtually, which means they can assess if the finalized building looks and feels exactly how they imagined. For clients, being able to physically look around and visualise how a building will function before it has been built is a major advantage. It provides the opportunity to pick up on the smallest of details, like whether a piece of equipment will fit in a space, and give the contractor feedback accordingly. This greatly improves communication and collaboration between the two parties in an agreement. It provides the opportunity for more valuable input from all, and reduces the possibility for misunderstanding, which could sour future relationships.

Augmented Reality – Augmented Reality (AR) is any technology that superimposes spatially contextual information over the user’s view of the real world, providing a additional data while still permitting interaction with the real environment. An example of augmented reality in construction is the Daqri helmet, which provides workers with real-time information and data about the construction environment, such as animated instructions on how to complete a task, while they are engaged in that task.


VR technology is still in its infancy, but companies in the construction industry are increasingly integrating it in their design processes to enrich their design strategies. Companies are able to create high quality, industry-leading content that gives their customers the ability to view their models in a virtual environment, allowing contractors to complete projects faster than they could with traditional methods.

There are also various money saving opportunities with Virtual Reality (and Augmented Reality) technologies that are benefitting construction firms today. Some of these benefits are:

  • Reducing Rework
  • Improving Safety
  • Lowering Labor Costs
  • Meeting Timelines
  • Resolving Issues Faster
  • Increasing Quality

Over the last 5 years, costs for VR equipment having significantly decreased, opening up the technology to companies and industries that previously couldn’t justify the high costs. These cost reductions, coupled with the software behind the lens becoming more robust, has meant that it can play a much larger role in the construction industry. For these companies they are seeing the value straight away. It requires limited implementation time and users see the value in even the first use.


VR has a future in the construction industry. It reduces downtime and miscommunication between designers, construction professionals and clients, making the planning and building process run faster and more precisely. VR could be at the centre of your daily drawing processes and obtain great results in delivering clearer and more precise projects to your clients.


Source: and Connect and Construct

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Energy Efficient Home Design: The Ultimate Guide

From PANTONE’s 2018 Color of the Year (we’re looking at you Ultra Violet) to brass accents in the kitchen and bathroom, you’ve got plenty to choose from when it comes to this year’s home design trends. But there’s another design trend worth paying attention to this year: energy efficiency, the trend that helps your home run cheaper and cleaner.

Owning a home means providing your family with a warm, safe space for all of life’s greatest moments, and the modern home combines high-performance features and eco-friendly design. The great news? There are plenty of home upgrades that offer this winning combo, and as energy efficiency continues to improve, so do your potential savings.

These home design upgrades are aimed at making your home and community more water and energy efficient. From solar panels to double-paned windows, if you’re interested in ways to make your home look and feel better while conserving energy, we’ve got you covered.


1. Solar Panel Systems

We can’t talk about energy efficient home design without taking a look at solar panels. More homeowners are adopting solar energy than ever before, and for good reason. As solar technology improves, many are finding that the benefits of solar panels are worth the investment. Discovering these benefits can be a part of your homeowner journey, too.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels are designed with one purpose in mind: harness the power of the sun to create usable electricity. This means you can sit back and relax while the sun does the hard work for you.

How does this hard work actually happen? When the sun shines on your solar panels, the panels’ cells generate Direct Current (DC) electricity. DC electricity filters through an inverter—essentially the brain of your solar panel system—and converts to Alternating Current (AC) electricity. This electricity can then be used to power your home.

Solar Design Advancements in 2018

As the solar industry expands, so do your choices as a homeowner. Recent developments in solar technology have made solar panels more affordable and design-friendly. These are just a few of the solar trends you can expect to benefit from this year.

    • Double-sided solar panels: Double-sided solar panels are a popular option because both surfaces of the panel can capture sunlight. This increases power output, ensuring you get the most bang for your buck.


    • Frameless/clear solar panels: Looking for a different style of solar panel to match your home design? You’ve got options, as many manufacturers are now offering frameless panel systems that come with specialized mounting fixtures.


    • Tesla solar tiles: Tesla does more than futuristic cars. The company has introduced new roof panels that are designed to provide the power of solar energy without sacrificing style. You can choose from four stylish shingle designs that capture energy from the sun.


  • Cloud-based solar system monitoring: Cloud-based solutions are transforming preventive solar panel maintenance. Some contractors are beginning to use cellular monitoring, as it allows them to examine the function of your solar setup in real-time from any location without having to inspect your panels in person. This means problems can be solved much faster, and ensures your solar panels will give you the output you deserve.

How Much Do Solar Panel Systems Cost?

There are many myths regarding solar panel systems, and one of the biggest misconceptions is that solar panel systems are too expensive. The cost of solar has actually decreased by 80 percent since 2008 . As solar panels become cheaper to make, homeowners are finding solar panel systems to be more affordable than ever before.

The cost of installing a solar panel system depends on your region’s policies, how much sunshine your home gets, and the size of system you purchase, but there are ways to estimate overall expense.

According to, U.S. homeowners can expect to pay between $2.87 and $3.85 per watt to install a solar panel system in 2018. Watts are a measurement of power; wattage indicates how much power output you can expect to get out of your solar panels. The higher the watt rating, the more powerful—and expensive—the solar panel system.

Right now, the average cost per watt is $3.16, making the average cost of a 5000-watt solar panel system $16,800. It’s an intimidating number to be sure, but don’t give up on your solar dreams just yet, as there are ways to reduce this cost.

You can still take advantage of the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC). This tax credit was first offered in 2006 and will remain available until 2021. The clock is ticking, though; as solar energy becomes more popular, government incentives are being phased out. Until 2019, the tax credit covers 30 percent of the total cost of your solar panel system. Each following year, the rate decreases, meaning your potential savings get smaller and smaller.

With PACE financing, one residential solar panel financing option, you can immediately access the money-saving benefits of solar energy and pay off the panels over time through an assessment on your property tax bill.

How Much Can You Save with Solar Panels?

Solar panel systems are a great way to save money. How much they save you depends on a variety of factors including local laws and rebates, your electric bill, and the size of the system.

It can be hard to pinpoint exactly how much you can save with solar panels, but a recent study performed by the NC Clean Energy Technology Center sheds light on the solar savings in the country’s 50 largest cities. According to their data, customers who invested in a 5,000-watt solar PV system saved an average of $44 to $187 per month during the first year.


2. Windows

Windows provide your home with warmth, light, and ventilation, and upgrading them offers plenty of fantastic benefits. New windows can reduce heating and cooling costs, provide more UV protection, and enhance your curb appeal in one fell swoop.

Selecting the right windows is crucial. Older windows are often crafted from outdated materials that don’t hold up. Cracks in a window’s frame allow air to leak in and out, creating unpleasant drafts. These issues can force your home’s heating and cooling system to work much harder, leading to energy waste and higher costs.

New Energy Star certified windows are designed with energy efficiency in mind. Find yourself avoiding the window seat during warm summer months? Inefficient windows allow the sun’s rays to creep into your home and increase the interior temperature. Energy Star certified windows can reduce the amount of heat that penetrates your home without reducing visible light. This means your rooms stay cooler and you still get the light you need, no matter how hot it gets outside.

What Makes an Energy Star Window Better than Non-Efficient Window Upgrades?

Energy Star certified windows have to meet certain criteria: they must be crafted by an Energy Star partner, and are independently tested, certified, and verified by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). These windows are also rated by the NFRC under strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

When Should You Replace Your Windows?

Be on the lookout for signs your windows need replacing. If your energy bill seems abnormally high, drafty windows may be forcing your HVAC system to work overtime. If your windows take on a frosty, cloudy appearance, condensation has likely made its way between the glass panes. If you notice your windows are difficult to open and close, there may be balancing issues within the framework. Any of these signs may indicate an issue, but we always recommend consulting with a professional before making any decisions.

Repair vs. Replace

Some homeowners choose to repair their windows before replacing them completely, but this can be a waste of money. While some issues can easily be remedied through at-home repairs, larger framework and sealing issues can have serious consequences. If the structural integrity of your windows is failing, you could throwing away a small fortune in energy costs.

How Much Do Energy Efficient Windows Cost?

Energy efficient windows vary in cost depending on size and style, but we can make some assumptions on overall cost with help from The National Association of Realtors. Their Remodeling Impact Report provides a cost breakdown for installation of two popular window types on a 2,450-square foot house.

The installation of all-new vinyl windows for an average home costs around $15,000. Installing wooden windows on the same house would cost around $26,000. These two examples show that replacing your windows can be a significant investment, but many homeowners find the benefits outweigh the cost, as they enjoy their homes more and save big in energy costs.

How Much Can Upgrading Your Windows Save You?

Data from the Remodeling Impact Report shows you can save hundreds of dollars each year with energy efficient window replacements, and that homeowners generally recover about 80 percent of their costs. This study also found that 61 percent of homeowners have a greater desire to spend more time in their homes after installing new windows—that’s a benefit we can all get behind.

When it comes to energy use, the savings are real. According to Energy Star, replacing existing windows with energy efficient windows can save you between 7 and 15 percent on your energy bill.


3. Insulation

Insulation upgrades can have a significant impact on energy costs and your family’s comfort. Increasing or replacing insulation in your home means using your heating and cooling system less. This can help reduce your energy bills and make for a truly energy efficient house design. Older homes usually lack insulation, and bringing your home’s insulation up to modern standards can offer some serious savings.

How to Compare Different Types of Insulation

Every type of insulation features a label detailing the material’s R-value per inch. The R-value defines the material’s ability to resist heat transfer. The larger the R-Value, the more effective the insulation is bound to be. In tight spaces, insulation with high R-Value should be used, but in open space areas, thicker layers of a lower-rated material can do the trick.

There are various types of insulation, generally broken up into four categories:

    • Spray foam: This insulation seals gaps and leaks in walls. A liquid solution is sprayed into the walls, where it then hardens into a solid foam. Homeowners like this insulation because it offers the highest R-value of all insulators.


    • Blown-in: This type of insulation uses a mechanical blower to fill a space with white cellulose. It offers a high R-Value, and is especially effective in tight, hard-to-reach spaces. Many homeowners appreciate this insulation’s ability to resist moisture and keep pests and insects out.


    • Fiberglass batts: Homeowners looking for an inexpensive insulation solution turn to Fiberglass batts, a cheap type of blanket insulation made of fiberglass that can be stapled into place. As long as they’re installed correctly, these rolls of insulation can prove to be a quick fix.


  • Reflective/radiant barriers: This type of insulation is usually found in the attic, as the material helps reduce heat and cold. Radiant and reflective barriers reflect the sun’s rays and absorb heat before it makes its way into your home, keeping you and your family cooler. Generally, this insulation is better for homes that see the sun more often.

How Much Does an Insulation Upgrade Cost?

The price of insulation depends largely upon where you plan on insulating, but many other factors can affect overall cost for this energy efficient home design feature. Common expense factors include the size of your space, the type of insulation selected, and installation fees. The average attic insulation project costs anywhere from $400 to $1,800 according to the U.S. Department of Energy. This investment is a small price to pay when compared to the energy savings it provides.

While federal tax credits and rebates expired a few years ago, certain states still provide rebates and discounts for insulation upgrades. As you draw up your energy efficient home plans, check with your local districts to determine if there are incentives in your area.

How Much Can You Save with Insulation Upgrades?

Investing in an insulation overhaul can pay off in the long run. Insulation helps keep your home at your desired temperature, which means using your HVAC system less. The EPA reports that you can save an average of 15 percent on heating and cooling costs with insulation and air sealing home improvement projects.


4. New Roofing Materials

In 2018, energy efficient roofing is set to take center stage. Cool roofing is becoming a hot commodity among modern homeowners, and for good reason.

What Are the Benefits of a Cool Roof?

Almost 90 percent of the roofs in the U.S. are dark-colored. The surface of these black roofs can increase in temperature by more than 100°F, leading to a hotter home, increased use of cooling systems, and a shorter lifespan for your roofing materials.

Cool roofs are designed to reduce these effects. Cool roofing systems help reflect the sun’s rays, which in turn reduces heat transfer to your home. Cool roofs provide advantages for more than a single home; these advanced systems can help reduce local air temperatures in areas that have become too hot, often referred to as the Urban Heat Island Effect.

What is the Urban Heat Island Effect?

Urban Heat Islands occur in cities where natural land cover has been replaced with buildings and pavement. These man-made surfaces absorb heat and make surrounding areas hotter, which can increase energy costs, promote air pollution, and lead to heat-related illnesses.

Incorporating cool roofs into energy efficient home design may be the remedy for this dangerous and costly effect. Urban Heat Island Mitigation, or UHIM, uses cool roofs to combat the negative effects of Urban Heat Islands. They’re doing their part in the energy efficient revolution, and so can you.

Various Types of Cool Roofing

Whether you’re considering a full roof replacement or want to buy upgrades for your current roof, making the switch to cool roofing can be a solid investment. There are various methods and types used to create cool roofing for energy efficient homes:

    • Green roofs: Green roofs incorporate rooftop plants. This vegetation forms a barrier, helping reduce the amount of heat that flows into the building. Green roofs work best on urban buildings that have flat or shallow-pit roofs.


    • Reflective coating: Homeowners can transform their current roofing system into a cool roof with solar reflective coatings. These coatings are designed to reflect sunlight, helping to extend your current roof’s lifespan and stop the growth of algae and fungus.


    • Tile roofs: If you have tile roofs, they’re likely composed of concrete, clay, or slate. Some of these materials are naturally reflective enough to meet the standards for cool roofing, and surface treatments can help tiles achieve this status.


  • Metal roofing: Unpainted metal roofing provides great solar reflection, but is generally only effective for steep-sloped roofs. Painting your flat metal roof can help deflect the sun’s rays, keeping your home cooler.


5. Smart Home Additions

Smart home technology has transformed energy efficient home design. Adopting some of these breakthrough technologies can help you enjoy your home more.

A smart home provides more than cool, futuristic features; the rise of smart home technology has also seen a significant reduction in energy use and waste. Homeowners across the world are doing what they can to optimize their home for energy efficiency, and the proof is in the pudding: The global home automation system market is expected to grow to $78.27 billion by 2022, and smart features are becoming a hallmark of energy efficient home design.

Certain smart home additions can mean fantastic savings in terms of energy efficient home design:

    • Lighting control: Motion sensor lighting and dimmer controls can help homeowners save money. Motion sensing switches ensure lights are turned off whenever a room is vacated—never leave home with the lights on again. Dimmers can be tailored to your lifestyle, letting you use only the amount of light you need.


    • Smart meters: There are advanced meter systems for a variety of home products. Looking to conserve water and energy? Your water heater is a huge energy suck, and whether water is being used or not, your water heater spends astronomical amounts of energy heating and reheating water in a tank. A smart water heater monitor allows you to schedule hot water heating to fit your schedule.


  • Programmable thermostats: Smart thermostat maker Nest reports energy savings of 10 to 12 percent on heating and 15 percent on cooling among its users as of February 2015. Since the bulk of your home’s energy bill is due to heating and cooling costs, a programmable thermostat can significantly reduce your bills. These systems let you program your HVAC system to turn on at a specific time, so you don’t waste energy to cool or heat the house when no one is home.

Picking the right home improvements can result in big savings. Reducing your carbon footprint has never been so cool, and designing an energy efficient home has never been so easy. Fall in love with your home all over again with these energy efficient home design trends.


Reposted from Renovate America from January 4th, 2018

Posted in Building Technology, Energy Efficiency, Energy Savings, Home Renovations, Residential Building | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment


Energy efficiency can improve public health through weatherization of homes, reducing pollution, and making people’s homes safer. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has a new Health & Environment program that is doing pioneering research to document how saving energy does more than save money — it protects health.

In the southernmost tip of West Virginia, where the state’s poverty rates are highest, Brenda Kelsor struggles with chronic breathing problems. She has bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and her home — an old trailer — was only making matters worse. It lacked central air conditioning and insulation so she found it difficult to breathe in both summer and winter, noting, “It’s hard to breathe … if it’s too hot or too cold.” After her home was weatherized, its indoor temperature remained pleasant and her utility bills decreased. “Oh, my god, it feels good in here,” she said about the difference. “This is going to help.”

Like Kelsor, many residents of rural areas such as McDowell County have inefficient homes with high energy bills. Efficiency upgrades not only save homeowners money but also can improve their health. Curtis Lindsey, the weatherization program coordinator for the Council of the Southern Mountains, said many local residents can’t afford to move or fix their homes. “They are freezing every winter. They’re burning up every summer. And weatherization can help people in that situation.”

The conditions inside a home can have a big impact on a person’s health, affecting exposure to indoor air pollution, allergens, disease-carrying vermin, and other hazards. Energy efficiency upgrades can make buildings safer and healthier. Weatherizing a home involves sealing up holes and cracks that can allow cold air — or pests — into the home. A residential energy efficiency program typically also repairs or upgrades appliances. This can reduce utility bills and eliminate health hazards caused when malfunctioning furnaces and hot water heaters spew carbon monoxide into a home.

Professionals like Mr. Lindsey who deliver weatherization services are typically trained in building systems and sciences. They identify hazards in a home and fix them.  For example, they identify causes of moisture and ensure proper ventilation so that when the home is tightly sealed, air quality is maintained and mold doesn’t grow. These benefits are especially significant for vulnerable individuals such as the elderly, children, and people with respiratory illnesses, including asthma. By reducing a family’s utility bills, these efficiency improvements can also help those struggling to put food on the table.

Pollution & Air Quality

Reducing energy waste reduces pollution. By saving energy in buildings and making vehicles more fuel efficient, we burn less fossil fuel and reduce the pollutants they emit. Fossil fuel pollution contributes to four of the leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart disease, and stroke. While our air is getting cleaner overall, four of every 10 people in the United States still live where the air is unhealthy. This pollution is especially harmful to children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illnesses such as asthma. One of every 13 US residents has asthma, now the most common chronic disease that sends our kids to the hospital. Each year, we spend more than $50 billion on its treatment.

Energy efficiency policies and programs have already reduced pollution equivalent to what would have been produced by hundreds of power plants and improved the fuel economy of tens of millions of new vehicle. These programs and policies hold the potential to reduce even more pollution.

Cleaner air means better health and longer lives, particularly for those with respiratory illnesses. We have no cure for asthma, but we do know what triggers attacks. Mold, exposure to cold air or sudden temperature changes, air pollution, and pollen are all culprits. Fortunately, these triggers can be managed, reduced, and in some cases even eliminated through energy efficiency measures. Sealing holes that let moisture into a house helps prevent mold, reduces the influx of outdoor pollution, and eliminates exposure to drafts and sudden temperature changes. Changing your furnace’s filter ensures that particles in the air don’t circulate throughout your house.

Energy efficiency directly benefits the health of the general public as well as families who make their homes more efficient. Yet so far, efforts to understand and quantify these benefits have been limited. ACEEE’s research in this emerging and promising field aims to provide critical information about the benefits to the public, energy and health policymakers, advocates, and stakeholders.

The first-ever Conference on Health, Environment, and Energy is being planned for December 2018 in New Orleans.


From the ACEEE blog on their 3 part video series exploring the health impacts of energy efficiency.

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Newport is proud to see the Lutron Caseta Light Switches make the news in the top smart gadgets to buy this year. We were a part of this cutting edge smart lighting technology from Lutron Electronics before the system was even being sold in stores. Newport Ventures partnered with Lutron to put these systems in all our demonstration homes for our LED Demonstration Project.

Newport Ventures working with NYSERDA and a group of New York builders conducted an LED lighting demonstration that highlighted the use of advanced lighting and controls technology. Newport identified Lutron switches as a technology that could take advantage of LED technology and offer the homeowner benefits. Lutron was just coming out with the Caseta system and we placed it in each of the demonstration homes. Each home was designed with 100% LED lighting packages that aimed to not only emphasize energy savings from a more efficient technology, but also present innovative design options, improved aesthetics and ambience, and increased control capability available only through LED technology.

We are excited to see such rapid adoption of a system that not only works for homeowners, but saves energy!

Read the Washington Post article.

Read the full project report.

The Lutron Caseta remote, dimmer, hub and app give your lights superpowers. (Photo: Lutron)

Posted in Building Technology, Energy Efficiency, Energy Savings, Lighting, Residential Building, Technologies | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Builder Spotlight: Passive Dwellings


Passive Dwellings creates net zero energy buildings that provide exceptional comfort and will survive for multiple generations. Typical American buildings use wood as their basic building material. Most wood-based structures exist for a relatively short period of time because they eventually succumb to fire, rot, or insect infestation. Passive Dwellings builds long-lasting structures built of natural materials that are fireproof, waterproof, and insect-proof. The buildings are beautiful, comfortable, low-maintenance, supremely energy efficient, and permanent.

Passive Dwellings built a 4,250 square foot home in Hillsdale, NY to the performance criteria of the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) program and recently received honorable mention from DOE’s Housing Innovation Awards. These award-winning ZERH homes are independently certified to meet DOE Zero Energy Ready Home guidelines and constructed by a select group of top builders. Zero Energy Ready Home is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings initiative which aims to make commercial, industrial, public, and residential buildings 20 percent more energy efficient over the next decade.

This Passive Home by Passive Dwellings is “Energy Positive,” meaning the house produces more energy for its heating/cooling, lights, plugs, appliances, and well pump than it requires annually. It is also “Source Zero,” meaning the energy produced on site adds no net pollution to the atmosphere (either at the house or at the power plants that send electricity when the sun isn’t shining).

“Actual electric bills and solar energy production numbers are all made available to all prospective clients … It is difficult to explain what it is like to live in a home without drafts, cold spots, and heating/cooling losses through inefficient windows. Ancillary benefits are its fireproof construction, waterproof properties, and the fact that it is rodent proof.”

– Steven Bluestone, builder, Passive House

A variable refrigerant flow air-source heat pump provides high-efficiency heating and cooling for the home. The air handler and ductwork are located within the conditioned space of the home (photo 2). This Passive House saves homeowners more than $3,000 in energy bills annually with the help of a  9.6-kW pole-mounted PV, along with super-efficient construction (photo 3). All of the paints and finishes used in this EPA Indoor airPLUS certified home are low-/no-VOC-emitting. The windows are triple-glazed, argon-filled Passive House certified and fill the home lots of natural light. The roof consists of 12-inch structural insulated panels (SIPs)(photo 4). On the exterior of the autoclaved aerated concrete walls, the Passive Dwellings attached 4.5 inches of foil-faced poly-isocyanurate rigid foam and topped this with furring strips to provide a ventilation gap behind the fiber cement siding (photo 5). An energy-recovery ventilator provides continuous ventilation for clean air inside the tightly air-sealed home (0.39 ACH 50).

See photos below. Click to enlarge.

photo 1

photo 2

photo 3

photo 4

photo 5

Key Features:

  • High-Performance insulation system for enhanced quiet and comfort
  • Comprehensive draft protection
  • Fresh air system for cleaner indoor air
  • High-efficiency comfort system
  • Energy-efficient appliances and advanced lighting technology for energy and water savings


Beneath the fiber-cement siding is an unusual building material called autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC). Steve Bluestone’s Passive House is the first autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) certified Passive House in the Americas. The homes above-grade walls are made of 8-inch-thick autoclaved aerated concrete blocks (pictured left). AAC is formed by mixing fine aggregate with water and other minerals that form gas bubbles in the mix causing it to double in size. It can be molded, fired, and easily cut into lightweight blocks with structural and insulating properties.

Autoclaved Aerated Concrete is a special lightweight concrete product that was invented in Sweden in the 1920s. Today it is used throughout the world and manufactured in over 350 plants around the globe. It is structural, easy to install, unaffected by water or fire, and airtight. AAC acts as insulation, doesn’t support the growth of mold, and provides abundant comfort through its inherent mass. Passive Dwellings advocates the use of reinforced AAC in walls and floors (and on occasion, roofs) due to its unmatched properties.


Steve Bluestone, founder of Passive Dwellings, has worked as a developer, general contractor, and property manager, producing thousands of units of housing and tens of thousands of square feet of retail space. Whether working on single-family homes or very large mixed-use apartment buildings, he has helped produce structures that have reduced energy consumption by 90% and more, others that are net zero, and some that are energy-positive. He has been an industry leader in energy efficiency for decades and continues to pursue his passion of researching new products and systems and introducing innovative building methods. He has spoken at numerous building and energy conferences and continues to share his knowledge to inspire the industry to reduce overall energy and water consumption.

For more information about Passive Dwellings and Steve Bluestone, visit


Associated Press: Building homes that make more power than they take (video)

Huffington Post: What Does It Take to Achieve a Zero-Net Energy Home? (video)

Posted in Building Technology, Durable Homes, Energy Savings, Net-Zero Homes, Residential Building | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New and Improved Photovoltaics

Photovoltaic efficiency keeps improving. SunPower recently achieved 24 percent efficiency with its panels, delivering 70% more electricity than conventional solar panels from the same space over 25 years.

So, you are thinking of building a new home, and you want it to be as energy efficient as possible. You’ve heard that the cost of solar panels has dropped significantly. But you aren’t sure of the next steps. First the good news — you heard right! The cost of photovoltaics has dropped precipitously in recent years, thanks to a rush of imports, improved solar efficiencies, and bigger economies of manufacturing scale. The installed cost of a residential system has fallen to a tempting $2.70 a watt, making it very competitive with purchasing power from the utility.

That’s led to a big increase in residential installations – they nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015 alone. “Things are really looking good for solar,” said Ron Fergle, of Solart Inc., speaking to a packed room of architects at this year’s American Institute of Architects conference. It’s reached the point where producing solar electricity is cheaper in the long run than buying it from a utility, as long as you are willing to make an upfront investment. “Photovoltaics are cost competitive with fossil fuels,” says Jason Jewhurst, a senior associate with Bruner/Cott Architects & Planners, which specializes in urban housing projects.

How much would it cost to buy a system for your new home? Installers say the size of the typical photovoltaic installation is about 5 kilowatts (kW). At $3 per watt, that means the system only costs $15,000, half of what it cost five years ago. A super energy efficient new home, on the other hand, may only need a 2kW system. That would run about $6000. And that’s before tax breaks. The first is a federal solar tax credit of 30 percent. States may offer tax inducements.

The economics of photovoltaics are so compelling that some people design net-positive homes that produce more power than they consume. In more than 35 states, the excess power can be sold to the local utility at full retail rather than wholesale rates. And you can still buy electricity from the utility when you might need it.   Photovoltaics are typically only one part – arguably the most important one – of a system that powers your home. Most photovoltaic panels produce direct-current (DC) power that must be converted to alternating current (AC) with a stand-alone inverter. Some newer panels now come with built-in inverters.

The missing piece of this equation has been a reliable battery for storing electricity for use on a cloudy day. Inefficient lead-acid batteries used to be the only choice. In the last two years a new generation of deep-charging batteries – some work with lithium-ion technology, others with salt water – have hit the market that can hold four times the electricity and last three times longer. Acquion, whose battery modules are shown above, employs environmentally benign salt-water technology to produce a deep-charging battery that’s compatible with the new generation of lithium-ion batteries that have hit the market.

Many solar systems also come with software that tracks your energy consumption and use. You can come home in the evening, find out how much electricity your home produced during the day, and adjust your nighttime use accordingly. Real-time data may remind you to close doors and windows so that conditioned air doesn’t escape. Some systems tell you how much electricity different home appliances consume.

If you think you are located in a part of the country where photovoltaics won’t work well due to clouds or industrial pollution, think again. One of the toughest places to run a solar system in the United States is Seattle, where storm clouds cover rooftops for much of the year, Fergle said. But Germany has roughly the same solar insolation levels (or solar exposure) as Seattle, and it was the world leader in electricity produced by PVs until it was recently passed by China. The United States is in a way better position to use photovoltaics than Germany. “The United States has huge untapped potential,” said Fergle.

Where Should I Put the Panels?
 To make optimal use of PVs, your home must have a clear view of the sun for most or all of the day — unobstructed by trees, roof gables, chimneys, and buildings. The best location for a PV system is usually on a south-facing roof, since in the U.S. the sun is always in the southern half of the sky. That said, a roof that faces east or west may also be acceptable. If you can’t use the roof, you could mount the panels on a pole or a trellis in the yard, as shown below at a Deltec demonstration house in Asheville, SC.

Roofs with composition shingles are the easiest to work with; slate the most difficult. PV panels can often be integrated into the roof itself. Some modules are actually designed as three-tab shingles or metal-roof sections. Using PV panels as an awning can provide both electricity and shade.

What Type of Solar Should I Use?
There are two basic kinds of photovoltaics to consider. The first employ Crystalline Silicon cells. They are the most efficient and command 80 percent of the market. If your home will have good solar exposure – a big roof facing south in a sunny climate — they are often the best choice.   They may also live longer. They commonly come with a 25-year warranty. The actual efficiency of the panels ranges from 15% to as high as 24%, depending on the manufacturer. SunPower achieved a record 24.1 percent efficiency with its X-Series panel.

There are two types of crystalline silicon cells — monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Monocrystalline are more expensive but yield better results.

Thin film
photovoltaics, on the other hand, may perform better at lower light levels, and at high temperatures. Thin film may be a better choice with low light levels — where the lot is heavily treed, or if the home isn’t oriented to have much south-facing roof space. Thin film photovoltaics are made of thin layers of PV material deposited by gas on backing material. The film is basically rolled on roofs, louvers, or walls.

(Here thin film is part of the roof in an early version of the Future Farmstead project in Georgia.) The film is flexible, lending itself to application on a wide range of surfaces – not just the roof. Thin film also may make more sense where space is not an issue – like on a farm or in a rural setting. Homogenous in appearance, thin film isn’t as efficient as crystalline silicon at converting sunlight to electricity, with efficiency ranging between 7 and 13 percent.  It also degrades faster and comes with a shorter warranty.


From the blog Time to Build, Photovoltaics Have Improved!, By Boyce Thompson, July 2016

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There are innovative, new technologies that are poised to influence the building industry according to John Ellis, a managing director of Ellis & Associates, a management consulting firm that serves clients in the automotive, consumer, connectivity, and software fields. These influential technologies include the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing and scanning, nanotechnology, and more.

Below is an excerpt from Builder Online’s interview with John Ellis about his vision for the future.

Technology is exploding these days, faster than builders can keep up. What top five technologies should they pay attention to?
The top five technologies for builders below might seem a strange list since some of these technologies are not specifically related to home building. That said, they are important for builders to follow and understand. Here’s why:

  1. 3D Printing. This technology has made significant leaps and bounds in the last few years. The first 3D commercially viable 3D printed car was debuted in November, 2015 at the Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas and is now available for purchase. In the first quarter 2016 the Oak Ridge National Laboratories showcased the first viable, fully 3D printed home suitable for every-day living. 3D printing will continue to improve and soon it will be possible for anyone to print just about anything. In the some not too distant future, I fully expect to see every house have a 3D printing room which will be used to print everyday objects like plates, cups, towels etc. Read more about 3D printing and watch a production video.
  2. Wireless Power. Imagine a world without cords or outlets. Where devices of all shapes and sizes are able to operate continuously, and as needed, have their batteries charged. This is the future of wireless power. And the future is much closer than people realize. One company promises commercial viable product before 2020. If that happens, this will have a profound impact on how homes of the future are built.
  3. Nano-particle Paint. This new technology is poised to revolutionize the world. Exceptionally hardened surfaces, self-cleaning surfaces, and dynamic-color changing surfaces are just a few examples of what is possible with nano-particle paint. We can imagine future homes that are never dirty, resistance to mold, mildew and other such destructive forces and can change colors at the whim of the owner. Read more about Nanotechnology in Homebuilding.
  4. Autonomous cars. While not directly related to the materials for home builders, autonomous cars are set to change the home building experience for ever. The narrative goes as follows: As autonomous cars permeate the market, people will become more accustomed to the vehicle as a utility rather than a thing to own. Over time, the idea of personal ownership will be replaced with on-demand services. When that happens, there will be no need for garages, driveways and maybe even streets. A future home in a world that is fully autonomous will be dramatically different than today’s homes.
  5. Drones. Yet another technology that is not directly related to home building but will have profound impact on the home of the future. We are moving quickly to a place where individual ownership of drones will be commonplace. Imagine sending your drone to the local Target or Costco to be loaded with goods that you purchased from an online website and the drone returning to your home. The future home likely will have a drone-pad similar to a helipad today.

How will IoT affect the way people live in homes over the next few years?
One of the biggest issues with IoT and homes of the future will be the concept of privacy. As we barrel ahead to connect anything and everything, we are quickly arriving at a point where all our devices in the house are connected, and even monitoring what we say to help provide additional conveniences. In the future, it may in fact be likely that homeowners will be required to post signage indicating to all that pass through the door that any and all of their conversations may be recorded and used in the future. That by entering the home, the person agrees to there not being privacy.

How far off are 3D printed houses in the U.S.?
As I indicated in my previous answer, 3D printed housing structures are possible today. So it would not surprise me that we could have 3D printed housing within the next 10-15 years. The natural place for this to first start is the pre-fabricated home industry. They already have adopted the idea of building the pieces in one location ensuring quality and price controls and then assembling elsewhere. This is a perfect place to use 3D printing of housing materials.

Our readers often look to the design and technological innovations of the automotive industry. What can builders learn from the way cars are built and designed?
One of the biggest changes in the auto industry is the introduction of 3D printing. Once fully commercialized, it has the potential to fundamentally change the entire supply chain and logistics. No longer do we need to expend significant energy and cost to bring together thousands of parts from hundreds of companies. So too in the home building industry. When 3D printing is fully commercialized, home building will be changed forever.

What will a home building construction site look like in 2025?
Home building in 2025 will likely include a lot more “technicians” focused on tuning the wireless power, or calibrating the nano-particle paint. In terms of tools, there will definitely be 3D printers used to create parts in real-time. I would also suspect there will be a lot of computer equipment likely in a trailer that is used to manage the building, configure the different instruments, sensors and products and to functionally test and verify the house is doing what it supposed to do.

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