UberHaus: aiming for Passive House and Living Building certifications

I’m very excited to be working on our first Living Building. Don’t get me wrong, meeting the Passive House Standard is a great achievement, and reducing energy demand through conservation is the most important measurable component of sustainability. Still, one can ask of a Passive building, “what about water? Or non-toxic finish materials?” and so on. Well, the Living Building Challenge considers all those questions.

If you forget for a moment our current building paradigm, how would you describe an ideal building? Just imagine a perfect building in an ideal world. (This is a fun exercise–right up there with “what would you do if you won the Lottery?”) How about–it’s beautiful and natural and fun, and makes me feel good; it was designed and built in a place where it “should” be (not on an ecologically sensitive site, for instance), primarily by workers in the local economy; it  produces more energy than it consumes; it does not deplete the aquifer; it supports habitat and edible gardening; in sum, it actively contributes to a healthier, happier world. Anything else you could ask for?

Sounds idealistic, maybe far-fetched or downright impossible? Well, that’s pretty much what the Living Building Challenge requires for full certification. Well beyond “doing less harm” than the status quo, LBC envisions buildings as restorative components of a healthy world: net zero water, net positive energy, no toxicity, beauty, and social equity are among the requirements. The standard is organized by “Petals” covering different aspects of building: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Over the next few weeks I’m going to write about these as they pertain to our projects.

Our Living Building project is a house in Geneva for Brandon Weiss, builder extraordinaire. He’s calling it the “UberHaus,”  and to achieve “Uber” status, is going for just about all the certifications worthy of achieving: Passive House, Living Building, LEED (Platinum of course), DOE Challenge Home, NAHB Emerald…to name the main ones. The house will be available for tours this weekend (July 26-27) through the GreenBuilt Homes Tour, and there will be more tours through the Passive House Alliance Chicago as construction progresses. I will be focusing blog entries on the many facets of this innovative project in coming weeks.