Six Passive Projects

What’s going on in Columbia County? Six very different building projects are applying the world’s highest energy standard under the care of BarlisWedlick Architects in a rural upstate New York community where kids raised on apple orchards and dairy farms attend schools with names like Ichabod Crane. BarlisWedlick presented the six projects at an event organized by New York Passive House April 17th at the Center for Architecture in Manhattan.

Who’s behind this hotbed of Passive House activity? Visionaries who invested in a spec house/research project, the head of a nonprofit organization providing low-income housing, the owner of a private company seeking healthy office space, the Pastor of a church to be sited north of Kinderhook, homeowners midway into transforming a 150-year old barn, and homeowners on the verge of Passive House certification (that’s us). Each one of the projects was represented in person – including ours, because Susan took the day off while Chris remained on Daddy Duty and painted the kitchen cabinets. It was a chance to look beyond our four (R-49) walls to the larger Passive House community. Shared objectives among the projects include energy efficiency, comfort and air quality.

Five Key Elements of a Passive House

Being a presenter at the 11th Annual New York State Green Building Conference was a “first” for me and I loved it. Chris and I appreciated the high level of interest in our home. Here is a short slide show capturing the take-away learning. Though few in that standing-room only event are likely to build a Passivhaus of their own, these techniques can be widely applied to improve energy efficiency: 1. Architecture / Purposeful design that lets the sun in; 2. Super Insulation; 3. No thermal bridging; 4. Airtight structure; 5. Air exchange with a heat recovery ventilation system. Click here for the SLIDESHOW:

Speaking at green building conference

The 11th Annual New York State Green Building Conference is coming up fast. I am on the agenda March 12 to deliver a 45-minute presentation titled “Building a Passive House for an Active Family”. It was accepted for AIA credit. I submitted an abstract a few months ago to give myself a push, to toss a ball and run to catch it. Now the challenge is to make time for this new project in my crazy Spring schedule of UN report deadlines, motherhood and moving into the new house. Chris’s fantastic photos will be the heart of the PowerPoint and our story will be the soul.

Huffington Post

Susan’s most unusual birthday present: learning today that our house and her “no nukes” history are featured on Huffington Post. Natalie Pace wrote this blog for Huff Post Green after visiting our house with Dennis Wedlick. Thank you, Natalie. More  >>

With Natalie Pace of Huffington Post

Huffington Post blogger Natalie Pace visited the house on Saturday, pictured above with friend Jim and architect Dennis Wedlick. Natalie blogs about clean energy. When it comes to energy use, a Passive House is the best building standard in the world. We’ll be certified as using about 90 percent less energy than a conventionally constructed equivalent (no need to import foreign oil to heat our house). The site itself is part of the energy story, too. In the mid-1970s, utility companies proposed building a nuclear power plant here, envisioning a cooling tower where this energy-efficient home now stands — on land farmed by Susan’s family at least eight generations.

Wise use of natural resources adds another green dimension because every inch of glass and insulation is calculated to contribute to the high performance of this “machine for living”, in the words of Le Corbusier. More familiar green choices may be our use of sustainably-produced wood products, zero VOC interior paint, and a recycled staircase and cabinets. We’re also buying local when possible and leaving the lower level’s concrete walls and floor unfinished.

Talking to reporters (three so far) is a new and somewhat unnerving experience. This time, listening to Dennis describe how a Passive House works made the 90 minutes fly thanks to his enthusiasm, artistry and technical know-how. It was pleasure meeting Natalie and Jim and we’re excited to see what comes of the visit via Huffington.

Natalie’s bio: Natalie Pace is the author of You Vs. Wall Street and founder and CEO of the Women’s Investment Network, LLC, at She is a repeat guest on CNBC, ABC, Fox News,, NPR and more.

Interview in the Troy Record

Printed in the newspaper, and also online here >>

Five questions for July 18, 2012: Chris Gould and Susan Guthridge-Gould

Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 / By Siobhan Connally, The Record

Photographer Chris Gould and writer Susan Guthridge-Gould are building a certified passive home in Columbia County. They are documenting their family’s experience at

Q: Why this kind of home instead of another kind of energy efficient home?

A: This Passive House is going to be extremely well-built, comfortable and beautiful — and it will keep our energy bills low for the rest of our lives. The house is designed by Dennis Wedlick Architect LLC and built by Bill Stratton Building Company. We are also benefitting from building science engineering from The Levy Partnership as part of a grant from NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development
Authority through its High Performance Development Challenge.

Q: How did you find Dennis Wedlick?

A: Susan heard about Dennis Wedlick’s Hudson Passive Project through her research into green building and some time ago we attended an open house in Claverack, NY, which is about 30 minutes from where we are building. We did a lot of research into a very DIY approach and called a few architects that we admired. Dennis Wedlick and his team, including Brian Marsh, have created a striking home that conserves energy by design.

Q: Construction of a house of this nature is costly right? Why is it worth it?

A: Any new construction is costly so why not take the opportunity to build the best you can? A Passive House can recoup its costs over the long-term because it requires minimal heating and other energy expense. It relies on insulation, sunlight and an airtight exterior. Going the extra mile to build this way is worth it. For our family in
particular, there’s also the satisfaction of building an energy-efficient home
to the Passive House standard on a site where utility companies wanted to build
a nuclear power plant in the 1970s. Chris will do a lot of the interior finishing
himself to keep costs down.

Q: What were the things you considered drawbacks and how did you overcome them?

A: We had to make some choices to build this way. We are building a smaller house that is very well-designed for living. We can’t have an indoor fireplace or cook with gas and we didn’t want to pierce the airtight envelope for a dryer vent so we have a compact condensation dryer.

Q: What inspired the design of your house?

A: The Shakers were all about quality craftsmanship and simple, efficient design, so it’s a perfect style for a Passive House. Several Shaker villages are nearby. After looking at countless books and online plans, we drove past a Shaker barn and said, that’s it.

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