Architecture, Energy, and Sustainability


Sustainability and Architecture 

Sustainable architecture in the modern world strives to acknowledge the social, economic, and ecological impacts of design.

By embracing a serene aesthetic that integrates traditional architectural styles with the simplicity of modern minimalism, and focusing on the unique qualities of materials themselves, 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.

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.

EnergyPlus and Net-Zero

EnergyPlus/EnergyPositive Buildings and Net-Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs) are designations for residential and commercial building construction based on annual energy usage. A clear line can be drawn between non-renewable energy energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, so EnergyPlus and NZEBs are also more environmentally positive buildings.

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 Positive Energy Building is one that produces more energy over a year than it imports from external sources.

A Net-Zero or EnergyPlus designation is obtained through the architectural design of your building, how the building is placed with regard to sunlight, the materials used to construct your building, use of HVAC and appliance technologies, and 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.

We see 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 completed Net Zero or Positive Energy projects in Charlottesville and Central Virginia:

…and past collaborations and portfolio projects:

  •  Solar Decathlon, Team Germany – Barbara Gehrung for TU Darmstadt, 2007
  •  Meadow Farm – Mark Graham for William McDonough  - Completed 2013

To learn more about energy efficiency certification systems, please see:

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.