Indiana’s First Passive-Certified Home Is in Zionsville

Dreading your winter heating bill? Meet the man who builds houses without the furnace.

This modern home in Zionsville’s village sounds entirely too good to be true: an environmentally responsible house without a furnace or central air that maintains optimal temperatures—year-round—while using a third of the energy of traditional construction. And yet it’s not some futuristic dream. Nearly 30,000 of these houses already exist in Europe and the Pacific Northwest. Cedar Street Builders hopes middle America is ready for the philosophy.

This four-bedroom home, nicknamed Project 580, is a super-insulated, low-energy design built to a strict set of standards originally established by the German Passiv-haus Institute. Last summer, it became the first house in Indiana to receive the rigorous certification.

In its simplest sense, a house that has been Passive-certified is insulated to be as air-tight as possible—so buttoned-up, in fact, that body heat can provide 10 percent of the home’s warmth. Its efficiency is derived primarily from its meticulous construction, mastered by Cedar Street owner Dan Porzel—who happens to be the Project 580 homeowner. Porzel became devoted to green building after spending 14 years in the Chicago area working on large-scale LEED-certified commercial projects.

The house took seven months to complete with special prefabricated panels (called SIPs) designed and engineered in Louisville. The triple-pane windows came from Poland, and the walls are 12 inches thick. Finding a local crew to work with Passive-certified standards proved to be a challenge, but one worth the hassle. After a year, Porzel’s total energy bill for the all-electric, 2,600-square-foot home (which also boasts a green roof over the front porch) averages under $80 per month, making it 71 percent more efficient than the typical new home. Materials and labor run at a 10 percent premium.

For tech geeks, that might be a small price to pay for Porzel’s monitoring system. “It allows us to view and track the usage of each circuit, so we know exactly how much we are spending on heating and cooling, lighting, appliances, water heating, et cetera,” he says. “You can essentially heat the home with a hair dryer.”