Arlington’s New Green

Passivhaus Movement Comes to Residential Housing


Looks can be deceiving, and this Passivhaus home is a prime example in ‘green’ living. (Photo courtesy of Roger Lin)

Roger Lin and his brother Eric have taken the green concept a step farther when it comes to building houses. Both partners at IntelliStructures, the duo recently built Northern Virginia’s first Passivhaus in Arlington—one of only three in the region, and about 100 in the nation.

The vision behind the Passivhaus theory comes from German physicist Dr. Wolfgang Feist and Dr. Bo Adamson of Sweden, who, during a massive energy crisis in the 1980s-90s, looked at how to build a home that exceeded standard thermal and airtightness performance.

Photo Courtesy of Roger Lin

When moving onto a new project in 2012, the Lin brothers decided to take things a step farther and not just “get on the green bandwagon,” says Lin. “We wanted something to quantify.” And so began the search for the perfect plot to build.

From the outside, the Arlington home is a contemporary structure similar to any typical home popping up around the region—sans, maybe, the rooftop garden/deck and modern style leanings—but what is not seen is the tight envelope encasing the home that has made it so heating and cooling is negligible. For example, when a derecho hit this summer, power was knocked out to the home for seven days, and while outside temperatures were in the 100 degrees, inside the home temperatures capped at 83 degrees.

“The envelope of the home (walls, roof, foundation, slab, windows and doors) uses structural-insulated panels (SIPs) that are all foam,” says Lin. “Typical structures have the 16-foot studs, leaving a cavity wall with no continual insulation. [The SIPs] have no thermal bridges, so there are not as many nooks and crannies.”

Photo Courtesy of Roger Lin

Lin explains, “A Passivhaus is insulated about twice as much as a conventional home.”

The Lin brothers are beginning to take steps in their next project, scouting a plot. But, they are actively working with county inspectors on Passivhaus standards and how to bring them up to speed on the method.

“Passivhaus will be the new building code in parts of Europe in 2020 or 2025,” says Lin. “It is amazing how slow America is moving. We are maybe 25 years behind.”

Get the behind the scenes look at Arlington’s Passivhaus, and Lin’s future works by following his

—Lynn Norusis

(January 2013)