An early adopter of passive house design


It is one of Zero energy design (ZED) first Passive house projects, which is notable as they have since earned a reputation as one of the best in the Northeast green building design companies. “It was a great pioneering project at the time,” explains architect Stephanie Horowitz. “It was the start of an era for us.

The house was built 10 years ago when there were not many options for pre-approved assemblies. They used a panel construction system from Bensonwood Homes; the company worked with them to modify the panels to meet Passive House certification requirements. It was an unusual move, especially in a rural setting, which complicated the process in several ways. On the one hand, the labor pool for such specialized construction was limited. “We partnered Bensonwood’s panel system with a local contractor, which bypassed the problem of a lack of skilled labor for passive house construction,” says Horowitz. “It allowed for a more predictable outcome.”

A side view of the house with an outdoor patio

The volume of the house revolves around a catheterized volume, where post-and-beam construction and finished clear-faced plywood ceiling panels are visible beneath a structural insulated panel roof. Wood floors, interior rebated wallsand floor tile on the south side of the house – which provides some thermal mass – adding to an aesthetic that has held up well for over a decade.

A view of the kitchen from the living room with high ceilings

heat pump technology and one ERV Zehnder were part of the design – again, uncommon systems at the time. One aspect of the project that does not align with current best practice is the inclusion of a wood-burning stove within the passive house envelope. ZED does not recommend any indoor combustion under these conditions, knowing that it is too great a risk to indoor air quality and life safety. For this client, it was a non-negotiable, and they understood the risks. They also had a good understanding of how to operate the wood stove as safely as possible. To reduce risk, ZED incorporated an outside air intake and gasketed stove doors to create a separation between the firebox and the inside air.

An open plan living room with a wood burning stove in the corner

The steel deck is another notable feature. The client knew the decking would get a lot of use and wanted to ensure its long-term durability. It also serves as a moisture-resistant climbing structure for plants, which provide shade for south-facing windows. Like the majority of products and methods used on this house, it turned out to be a good way to go.

Designate zero energy design,
Builder Estes and Gallup
Location Vermont
Pictures Eric Roth


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