Carl Youngblood has long held an interest in energy efficiency, and it shows. He drives an electric car and is thinking of trading in his family’s second vehicle for a Tesla.

It makes sense, then, that the software engineer is now constructing the first certified “passive house” in Provo, a certification requiring that a house run at the highest levels of energy efficiency.

Youngblood had been studying off-the-grid cabins and houses when he first came across the concept of a passive home.

“This was a standard that was the deluxe version of that, so I gravitated toward it,” Youngblood said.

So what’s the difference between a passive home and a regular one?

Special building designs — including massive amounts of insulation — keep the buildings from changing temperature quickly. Buildings built to the standard can save up to 80 percent on energy use, according to the website of Brach Design Architecture, the architectural firm that designed Youngblood’s house and several other passive buildings in Utah.

In some parts of the country, Youngblood said, the insulation allows owners of passive homes to forego heaters. With Utah’s winters, a heater will still be needed in the 6,000-square foot home, though on a much smaller scale than normal.

Even then, solar panels Youngblood is planning to install will produce the energy needed to run the entire home, which includes an accessory apartment in the basement.

“It’s called a net zero — a house that is producing as much as it is consuming,” Youngblood said.

The walls of the home have three to four times the thickness of insulation that a normal home would, and another barrier is put in all the walls to keep the building airtight.

Even the roof has more insulation than a typical one by about two to three times that of a standard home, said Mike Clark, co-owner of Hinkley Eaves Construction, who contracted to build the house.

“One of the things that’s very unique about this house is that it’s sealed up as tight as possible,” Clark said. “Even the roof doesn’t have any venting, which is atypical. We are sealing the house up, then controlling the air that comes in.”

Six inches of foam insulation can even be found beneath the concrete in the basement, a way to keep the cold transmitting from the ground into the home, Clark said.

A heat recovery ventilating system in the house will both ventilate the home as well as use the stale air that is being replaced to heat or cool the new air coming in.

Clark compared it to the way a car’s radiator transfers heat from the engine’s coolant to the outside air.

“The HRV system is constantly moving air around the different rooms to keep it the same temperature,” Youngblood said. “So we’ll have a few heating units, one on each floor, and then the ventilation system will take any warm air and movie it to colder parts of the house.”

The ventilation help keep mold and condensation from being issues despite the house being so sealed off from the outside.

“The ventilation system is constantly evacuating stale air and bringing in fresh air, but trying to recover as much energy and heat as possible from that air before it exchanges it,” Youngblood said.

Though the walls are thicker than that of a standard home, and the windows are triple-paned to better insulate, it will look like a traditional house and, if finished in time, will be showcased in the Parade of Homes in June.

Comfort is one of the characterizations of a passive home, Youngblood said, and isn’t sacrificed in order to achieve the energy efficiency.

Though Youngblood’s home will be fairly upscale once finished, he said any home can be designed to passive house standards.

According to Passive House Institute US, a nonprofit organization that promotes passive homes in the United States, it costs between five and 10 percent more to build a passive standard home than a regular home.

But, Youngblood said, because of the lower operating costs, it pays itself off in the long run.

“If you were to buy a house like this, your operating costs would be way, way lower than an older house,” Youngblood said. “Even though that might be less expensive to buy, it might cost you a lot on a monthly basis, and all of that money you’re spending is also going toward energy that is polluting the environment and other things like that.”

Katie England covers politics, the environment and courts for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

Katie England covers politics, county government and southern Utah County for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

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