TerraHaus Receives Passive House Certification, Nomination for National Award

By Unity College | Jul 10, 2012
TerraHaus at Unity College


Unity, Maine – When it was completed in August of 2011, Unity College’s TerraHaus residence hall opened as the first college or university residence hall built to the Passive House standard, one of the strictest building energy performance standards in the world.

     Having completed its first year of housing Unity College students, TerraHaus has not only lived up to its ultra-energy efficient billing, but in April it received the designation of Certified Passive House by the The Passive House Institute US of Urbana, Illinois.  It is also among this year’s outstanding EcoHome 2012 Design Award nominees for achieving the rare balance between architectural design and sustainable performance.

     Winners will be announced in the July / August issue of EcoHome, a magazine of the American Institute of Architects.

     Officially opened on September 24, 2011 with a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by members of the Unity College community and friends of the College, TerraHaus at Unity College in Unity, Maine, was designed and built by GO Logic of Belfast, Maine with input from students, faculty and staff. This 2,100 square foot residence is modeled to use the equivalent of 50-75 gallons of oil per year for space heating, less than 10% of the heating load for a home this size in this climate. In fact, in zero degree weather, the heating load could be met with a standard hair dryer. It achieves this remarkable level of efficiency from 1) superior air sealing, 2) super-insulation, and 3) solar orientation.

      For GO Logic’s visionary and award-winning green architect Matt O’Malia, working on TerraHaus was about service to goals much larger than his personal aspirations.

     “We feel that TerraHaus should be a model for both environmental and financial reasons,” O’Malia explained.  “Environmentally, it is clearly the most efficient and sustainable building approach possible.  Financially, given the dramatic cost savings through reduced energy consumption, the long-term benefit of passive house construction will shield institutions from the ever increasing costs of energy, as well as the long term costs of heating buildings.”

     Building TerraHaus improved Unity’s overall campus sustainability profile, replacing two less efficient student cottages, while maintaining independent, apartment-style housing they provided.  The exceptional performance of TerraHaus is expected to save $3,700 annually in space heating costs, a significant cost savings over the life of the building as energy prices continue to rise.
     TerraHaus is part of a larger vision for propelling Unity College to a place of national prominence for leadership in the growing field of sustainability science.  Unity College has design plans to build two other residence halls to passive house standard in the coming years adjacent to TerraHaus, which is Phase 1 of the project.  This multi-year project will result in the completion of SonnenHaus Village on campus.  It will offer more premium student housing, lower escalating energy costs into the future, and reduce Unity College’s greenhouse gas emissions impact.

     Ann Kearsley Design of Portland, Maine, working collaboratively with GO Logic, developed the site plan for SonnenHaus Village.  Grounded in the physical realities of the site and based on a process of structured engagement with the College and the general public, the SonnenHaus Village site plan and the completed TerraHaus project express the College’s environmental mission, offering a setting for formal and informal interaction and learning, and initiate a campus-wide shift towards an ecologically based framework for future development at Unity College.

     In developing the SonnenHaus Village master plan, GO Logic and Ann Kearsley Design implemented an inclusive team approach, working closely with Unity’s staff, faculty and students as well as the general public to articulate a vision, define functional requirements, and frame a response to the site.  The process included design charrettes with students, meetings with faculty and staff, and educational lectures to the larger public.  Mappings, drawings, and discussions yielded critical information about unmet needs, desires for the future, and patterns of current use.  GO Logic and Ann Kearsley Design synthesized this input with a detailed analysis of the site to develop a site and community-specific master plan for SonnenHaus Village and for TerraHaus.

     “GO Logic and Ann Kearsley Design have an educational orientation to their work that made them a perfect fit for Unity College.  They engaged our students and our entire community in an integrated design process that really emphasized great learning,” said Jesse Pyles, Unity’s Sustainability Coordinator.    

     From its inception, Professor Doug Fox focused on the educational aspects of TerraHaus, which requires residents to sign a contract pledging to participate in public tours of the building and learn about its qualities.
     "We believe it is important for Unity College students to live sustainably as they learn about sustainability," Fox said.

     A Unity College class taught by Fox participated in the actual design of TerraHaus, an unusual hands-on exercise and learning experience that also engaged students in building energy performance and home weatherization outreach in the local community. Fox edited a blog that outlined the progress of TerraHaus contruction and highlighted important design features.

     O’Malia sees a bright future for the Passive House approach.

     “Passive House is growing very fast in North America,” O’Malia said.  “It will be the building standard in Europe in 5 years, the reason being that the Passive House standard is a solution that really does solve the environmental energy issues in buildings both today and in the future.  No other building solution has this significant potential impact.”

     GO Logic has developed its energy-smart construction technologies utilizing the best engineering and building science practices in North America and Europe. The energy performance metrics for their buildings are based on the Passive House Standards, from the German Passivhaus Institute.

     In 2011, Unity College was named to the top 30 of the Washington Monthly college rankings, and was one of eighteen U.S. colleges and universities named to The Princeton Review’s 2010 Green Rating Honor Roll.

     Unity College is a small private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated, engaged students with a liberal arts education which emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to be environmental stewards, effective leaders, and responsible citizens through active learning experiences within a supportive community.

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