energy efficiency. The husband, a former executive in the energy/petrochemical
field, spent 16 years in Europe, where high energy prices dictate conservation awareness. When he and his German-born wife decided to settle back in the States with
their young son a few years ago, that awareness came with them. Still, although some
20,000 houses in Europe had been built to Passive House standards, Buttner’s clients
weren’t aware of the concept. Then, even as the architect was well into the design
stage, they encountered Katrin Klingenberg, the German-born cofounder of PHIUS,
who’d been invited to the island as a speaker by the Vineyard Energy Project.
The couple were immediately sold on Passive House principles, which fit
into their life philosophy, which included settling on the Vineyard. “I came
here quite a bit in the summer when I was a kid,” says the husband, a native of
Brooklyn, New York. “We had a chance to come back, and we just fell in love
with the place. It’s got a real sense of community. And it has a lot of built-in self-
sufficiency and sustainability just by virtue of being an island.”
They contributed to that ethos by not only making the house as green as
possible, but also by starting a small family farm to supply themselves, and some
of the community, with produce, eggs, and meat. They have new day jobs as
well: He is the president of a local renewable energy cooperative; she is in prop-
erty sales and management.
Buttner and Klingenberg integrated enough Passive House principles into the
original plans to get the house most of the way there. One change was replacing the
traditional masonry fireplace — a big hole in the all-important building envelope —
with an airtight firebox. Fortunately, the site orientation that best takes advantage of
the property’s enviable pastoral views is a solar-friendly one.
Inside, they wanted comfort, says Thayne Emrich of Thayne Emrich Design in
Bolton, Massachusetts, who was hired to do the interiors using “materials that were
easy to live with and that would age with grace.” Among his challenges
was lighting. Recessed fixtures would have interfered with the insula-
tion, so he used surface fixtures and “bounced light around” with wall
sconces. Thick walls and deep-set windows dictated an unconventional
approach to moldings. “The trim is all about the windows and doors looking like
they’re part of the structure, not applied afterward.”
If the couple’s new house is working out well, so is their new life, which now
includes 200 egg-laying hens, 1,000 pasture-raised broiler chickens, and 10 to 20
hogs at a time. “We’re trying to do our little bit,” says the owner, “and we’re living a
healthier life in the process. It’s not only close to our values, it’s rewarding.”
TO LEARN MORE, visit the Passive House
Institute US website: passivehouse.us.
To prevent air-quality and moisture problems, a
simple, compact ventilation system with heat
recovery continually exchanges stale air for fresh
without heat escaping to the outdoors.
Interiors incorporate materials such as tile or slab
floors, concrete or granite countertops, and stone
fireplace surrounds that retain heat in winter and
stay cool in summer.
Extra-thick walls and roofs are super-insulated to
R-values of 45 or more.