Paul and Diane Honig’s newly built home has no furnace or conventional central air conditioning, but is perfectly warm in winter and pleasantly cool in summer. On the coldest nights, the equivalent of two hair dryers heats the four-bedroom house.
Nearly as remarkable, the 2,800-square-foot structure produces more energy than it uses.Administrators of the CT Zero Energy Challenge, which recognizes super energy-efficient homes, have never seen anything like it.
“Is this is the most efficient and highest-performing house we’ve ever seen?” said Enoch Lenge, the energy efficiency program advocate for Connecticut Light & Power, which runs the energy challenge. “The answer is yes.”
That amazing efficiency won the Honigs this year’s CT Zero Energy Challenge overall award and prizes in three of the four categories, the best showing in the contest’s three-year history, Lenge said.
The couple will collect their awards and $25,000 in prize money at a ceremony Tuesday evening in Southbury.
“We are incredibly proud,” Diane Honig said. “For us, it’s not about the prize money, although that’s nice. The publicity is a way to inspire others to think differently about their ability to control their energy consumption and impact on the environment.”
So how did the Honigs do it? They built Connecticut’s first certified “passive house,” one of only about 100 in the nation.
Passive house is a rigorous German building standard that uses super-thick insulation, passive solar building design and airtightness to slash energy usage as much as 80 percent.
Largely unknown in the United States, passive houses are more common in other countries, with more than 10,000 worldwide, most of them in German-speaking countries, according to Katrin Klingenberg, executive director of Passive House Institute US in Urbana, Ill.
A recent Austrian guest speaker at the institute estimated a quarter of the new construction in his country is built to passive house standards, Klingenberg said.
The Honigs, who moved to Connecticut from Brooklyn, N.Y., three years ago, first heard of passive houses from a newspaper article. They liked the energy efficiency and that the homes do not contribute to global warming.
So when they decided to move out of their drafty Torrington condominium, building a passive house was a no-brainer.
“I thought it was really neat, and I wondered why more people didn’t do it,” said Paul Honig, 49, who used to work on Wall Street and is now a math teacher. “I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t I want to do this?’ “
The Honigs started their passive house project in 2011, finding a two-acre lot and hiring Jamie Wolf of Wolfworks in Avon.
Wolf, the state’s first passive house-certified designer, said airtightness, insulation and passive solar design are the keys to passive houses. He likened the Honigs’ home to a thermos.
“You want to keep the coffee hot, you want this really well-insulated container,” Wolf said.
To create that thermos, the Honigs’ home has 12-inch walls and triple-pane windows imported from Europe that retain more heat than they lose. The home is situated on an east-west axis with large windows facing south to catch as much sun as possible, Wolf said.
Another vital passive house component is the heat recovery ventilation system that constantly circulates fresh air in and out of the house while retaining most of its heat, he said.
“The goal is to be miserly, to treat energy the same way a miser treats money,” Wolf said. “I’ve got some, and I’m not going to let it go.”