CNH designer contributed to award winning ‘Passive House’ design

Houses can’t be shy, but they can be passive, and Architectural Designer Emily Nelsen was part of one such project in South Dakota that won a national award.

While a graduate student at South Dakota State University (SDSU), she helped design a single-family home in Brookings. It utilizes Passive House Principles as defined by Passive House Institute US (PHIUS).

It won the “Best project by a young professional under 35” designation, and Nelsen traveled to Washington, DC for the award presentation.

“It’s close to 70 percent more efficient, compared to a normal “code-built” house,” said Nelsen. She said it is extremely airtight, and has continuous ventilation via an air exchange unit. A modern 2,000-square-foot two-story, it uses balanced heat and moisture recovery. It features three bedrooms and two and a half baths with a cathedral ceiling and open plan. The structure with a detached garage is near the university.

Nelsen described the building’s continuous insulation that runs through the entire envelope of the building without any “thermal bridging.” The bridging is like a conduit that allows moisture vapor or heat to travel from the outside of the building’s envelope to the inside. “By eliminating thermal bridging, you reduce the heat loss and the possibility of moisture getting in,” she said.

Passive Houses employ five main principles (explained here). In addition to continuous insulation and airtight characteristics, there are high-performance windows, balanced heat and moisture recover ventilation and a minimal space conditioning system.

Funding for the case study home project flowed to SDSU’s Department of Architecture via a housing grant from the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Nelson was able to become a Certified Passive House Consultant through the process.

Learn more about the house

The architectural designer is working on several projects for CNH, which include self-storage facilities and tenant spaces. One of her most engaging has been a planned upgrade to the Wells Fargo Family Farm at the Minnesota Zoo.

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