Passive houses guard against wasted heat

Other side of Santa Fe from me – Klaus Meyer’s home

DARMSTADT, Germany: From the outside, there is nothing unusual about the stylish new gray-and-orange row houses in the Kranichstein district here, with wreaths on the doors and Christmas lights twinkling through a freezing drizzle. But these houses are part of a revolution: Though the ground around them is frozen, they are toasty-warm inside, even though they are not using any heating. No drafts. No cold tile floors. No snuggling under blankets while the furnace kicks in.

In Berthold Kaufmann’s house, there is, to be fair, one radiator for emergency backup in the living room, but it is not in use. Indeed, even on the very coldest nights, Kaufmann’s new “passive house” – and others of this design – can get all the heat and hot water they need from the amount of energy used to run a hair dryer.

You don’t think about temperature – the house just adjusts,” said Kaufmann, watching his 2-year-old daughter, dressed in a T-shirt, tuck into her sausage in the spacious living room, whose soaring glass doors give way to a patio. His new home uses about one-twentieth the heating energy of his parents’ home, which is the same size, he said…

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U.S. housing construction plummets to 17-year low

The U.S. housing downturn continues to worsen, with construction of new homes and apartments falling in August to the lowest level in 17 years, the U.S. Commerce Department has reported.

Housing construction dropped 6.2 per cent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 895,000 units. The size of the drop surprised analysts, who had forecast a decline of just 1.6 per cent.

The August figures represent the slowest building pace since January 1991, when housing was also going through a painful correction. Thousands of construction jobs have been lost, helping push the overall unemployment rate to a five-year high of 6.1 per cent.

Building permits, which are considered a good indicator of future activity, dropped 8.9 per cent in August to an annual rate of 854,000 units.

Even before the mismanagement and corruption of the Bush Administration had succeeded in destroying one of the healthiest sectors in the U.S. economy, remodeling and renovations had surpassed new construction in revenue for contractors.

Now that I’m retired, I needn’t stay on top of monthly figures other than economic trends like this one. But, my friends who are struggling to make a buck as contractors or subs – are running as fast as they can to build and extend market share on repairing and renovating what families already own.