design for a better world

Architecture, Energy, and Sustainability

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Photo credit: Leon Schmidt

Sustainability and Architecture 

Sustainable architecture in the modern world strives to acknowledge the social, economic, and ecological impacts of design. As a firm, we are committed to balancing these considerations with a sense of timeless design.

Embracing a serene aesthetic that integrates traditional architectural influences with the simplicity of modern minimalism, we create human-friendly designs that wed high-performance approaches to energy efficiency with attention to the climate, geography, and context of the site itself.

Towards our commitment to economic accessibility and social responsibility, we work with each individual client to maximize returns from alternative energy sources and choose materials with attention to health, durability, and environmental impact as well as aesthetics.  Our goal is to optimize the comfort of the space while minimizing overall consumption through the intelligent design of the building itself. Over the years, we have found that the Passive House design standard provides a solid framework for this undertaking, and that by using these principles, we can work to achieve an energy plus or net zero energy efficiency status even if Passive House certification is not the eventual goal.

This holistic approach to the concept of sustainability in our work results in spaces that are attentive both to human enjoyment and to the needs of our world today.


How Do We Measure Efficiency? The Net-Positive and Net-Zero Energy Standard

Net Positive and Net-Zero are designations for residential and commercial building construction based on annual energy usage. In the vernacular of sustainable architecture, a Net Zero Energy building is one that contributes as much energy to a supply grid as it uses over the course of a year. Taking this concept a step further, a Net Positive Energy building is one that produces more energy over a year than it imports from external sources.

A Net Zero or Net Positive Energy designation is achieved through the architectural design of your building, how the building is placed with regard to sunlight, the materials used to construct your building, intelligent use of HVAC and appliance technologies, and the use of supplementary methods used to harvest renewable power.

At Gehrung+Graham, we integrate cutting-edge alternative energy technologies, energy-efficient design concepts, and careful attention to siting to create both Net Zero and Positive Energy buildings for our clients.

In our practice, we use Passive House design and building methods as the foundation of a successful Net Zero or Energy Positive project. Approaching energy efficiency from a conservation standpoint first, we work closely with clients to define their energy needs and determine the best way to meet their goals.

For examples, please see our portfolio for completed Net Zero or Positive Energy projects in Charlottesville and Central Virginia.


What is Passive House?

Passive House is the most stringent global performance-based energy-efficiency standard for buildings. It is applicable to both residential and commercial architecture. Passive Buildings use a minimum of active space conditioning energy, while simultaneously offering superior indoor-air-quality and thermal comfort through:

  • Thermal-bridge-free, continuous insulation of the entire envelope

  • Creation of an airtight building envelope, preventing infiltration of outside air and loss of conditioned air and related moisture problems

  • Use of high-performance windows (typically triple-pane) and doors

  • Use of balanced heat- and moisture-recovery ventilation allowing minimized space conditioning systems. 

  • Good management of solar gains to exploit the sun's energy when temperatures drop and provide comfort during warm weather with integrated shading measures and thermal mass

Rooted in the Canadian Super-Insulated Homes of the 1970, Passive House was first developed into a building standard by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt (PHI), Germany in 1991. In the mid-2000’s the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) was founded, and since then the standard has been further developed to reflect the different North-American climate and integrate with established American energy rating systems such as HERS and Energy Star Challenge Home.

Barbara Gehrung and Mark Graham are both PHIUS Certified Passive House Consultants (CPHC) and members of the Passive House Alliance U.S. (PHAUS). In addition to optimizing their own designs to Passive House standard, Barbara and Mark offer Passive House consulting services to architects, general contractors, individual owners, institutions and research projects.

For her Passive House consulting work, Barbara won “Best Project by a Passive House Consultant Under 35” for ecoMOD South in the 2015 North American Passive House Awards, “Multifamily-Honorable Mention” for the Ivy City Passive Houses for Habitat for Humanity Washington D.C. in the 2016 North American Passive House Awards, and the “2013 R+D Award” from Architect’s Magazine with the ecoMOD South Team from the University of Virginia.