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A New Generation of Sustainable Aging: Net-Zero-Energy Passive House Moves into Taos Senior Housing Community
Longtime Taos residents Ross and Kristin Ulibarrí are looking to the future with their new, contemporary prairie-style Passive House, designed by the Santa Fe firm NEEDBASED, Inc. Sited within a senior cohousing community, their 3-bedroom/2-bath “TAOhouse” will allow the couple to actively enjoy the mountain town they love and live at home surrounded by engaged neighbors for decades to come.
The Ulibarrís have filled their life pursuing diverse business, educational and environmental endeavors. “Our house was built with our spirit of activism,” Ross Ulibarrí said. “We not only wanted a beautiful home; we were also interested in furthering sustainable housing by building a cutting-edge home that can be used as an educational tool.”
Natural light spills through expanses of glass that frame majestic views of Taos Mountain and invite the outdoors inside. The house’s open-concept floor plan features earth-pigmented plaster walls, floor-to-ceiling bamboo cabinetry and stained-concrete floors.
A photovoltaic solar system, along with in-floor hydronic radiant heat, is employed. An energy-monitoring gauge allows monitoring of the house’s efficiency. TAOhouse is exceptionally well insulated, tightly built and fitted with high-performance windows. It is one of only a handful of North American buildings to be certified by the Passive House Institute in Germany. As a net-zero-energy building, on-site energy production zeroes-out its total energy use on an annual basis. This is accomplished by prioritizing conservation techniques—passive strategies—over complex mechanical systems that require active operation and maintenance.
“Mechanical systems cost money to repair and replace,” says Jonah Stanford, NEEDBASED’s principal, who has been board president of Passive House Institute U.S. and helped found Passive House New Mexico. “The fundamental performance of a passive house is just based on physics and conservation,” Stanford explained. “It is more enduring and less expensive to conserve energy than it is to create it.” Extreme energy conservation is the foundational focus of the International Passive House Association’s building standard, a global vanguard of efficient design, demonstrating energy savings of more than 90 percent relative to conventional buildings.
The Ulibarrís are part of a burgeoning trend of homeowners who want the ability to live at home well into their old age. Their TAOhouse incorporates aging-in-place design, which increases a home’s flexibility—and thus usability—through the broadest range of ages, ambulatory abilities and life stages. Social connectivity is an important aspect of successful aging-in-place design. A balanced relationship between public and private spaces is an aspect of project planning that Stanford finds especially compelling; that is, how architecture and design can help create social sustainability by being sensitive to how people experience their homes and how the surrounding communities do, too.
Achieving these goals is largely dependent on the location. The Ulibarrís chose Valverde Commons (valverdecommons.com), a senior cohousing community, located a 15-minute walk from Taos’ historic plaza. Valverde Commons’ bylaws encourage sustainable building. Twenty-eight home sites loosely ring a commonly held 4-acre meadow and border 10 acres of farmland, community gardens and public-access open space protected by a conservation easement that will never be developed. Horses, cows and goats graze in nearby fields. Walking paths, just steps beyond a patio wall, meander between the homes, serving to connect community buildings with the private spaces, creating opportunities for natural and healthy social exchange. A common house—a cohousing standard—includes a kitchen and space for meals, classes and events.
For more information on the Passive House, contact Jonah Stanford at 505.577.4295, Jonah@needbased.com or visit the North American Passive House Network website: www.aphnetwork.org or www.needbased.com
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