Bright-Minded Home – October 2012

By Melissa Coleman

Q+A with sustainability coordinator Jesse Pyles about Unity College’s TerraHaus


Designed by Matt O’Malia and G•O Logic, TerraHaus is a 2,100-square-foot dormitory for 10 Unity College students. Completed in 2011, it boasts a certified Passive House designation and a 2012 EcoHome Design Award for architectural excellence and sustainable performance.

Q: What makes TerraHaus unique compared to the other dorms?

A: TerraHaus is the first certified Passive House student residence in the country, relying primarily on superior insulation and air sealing as well as solar orientation for space heating, and solar thermal hot water. All active heating systems are run on electricity instead of oil. We have small electric baseboard heaters in individual bedrooms and a cold-climate heat pump for heating and cooling the larger common area, but we rely very little on these units to heat the house. In zero-degree weather, the heating load could be met with a standard hair dryer.

Q: What are the energy costs?

A: During the 2012 spring semester, space-heating costs for TerraHaus averaged $21.59 per month, and $86.35 total for January through April. During that time, domestic hot water costs were $96.98 for electric backup water heating and circulation. So that’s $183 for space and water heating for four months. Pretty amazing, considering TerraHaus replaces two smaller cottages that costed us $4,364.58 for 1,307 gallons of fuel oil a year.

Q: What do students seem to appreciate most about TerraHaus?

A: In addition to a beautiful design that “feels like home,” our students enjoyed being part of a “Passive House” class that used their study of building energy concepts to connect local residents with home weatherization incentives through the Town of Unity Energy Committee. The public is welcome to visit the building for the NESEA Green Buildings Open House tour on Saturday, October 13.

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