About Newphire Building
Newphire Building is a progressive, high performance home builder based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We are one of only a handful of Certified Passive House Builders in the state of North Carolina.
The inspiration for the name "Newphire" came from reading the book, Revinventing Fire, by Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute. To paraphrase Mr. Lovins, a visionary in the field of energy efficiency and energy independence, the crux of the argument is this:
Burning fossil fuels has benefited mankind greatly in the past - we have harnessed their power to build great cities and societies. Today, however, the negatives of heavy fossil fuel usage far outweigh the positives, and it is time for a new fire.
“The new fire described here combines two elements: it uses energy very efficiently, and it gets the energy from diverse and mainly dispersed renewable sources.”
That explains most of our name...but there's still a bit of a mystery...why the 'ph' in the middle, instead of an 'f'?
The 'ph' is a reference to our favorite performance-based building standard, Passive House. Taking Lovins' concept of a new fire, and combining it with a nod to Passive House gives us Newphire. It's a name we feel is both meaningful and inspired, just like the homes we build.
What We Do
We are passionate about building high-performance, ultra energy efficient homes that meet stringent certification standards. How can Newphire Building help you build your dream home while also making a bold statement against the unsustainable use of fossil fuels? Here's how:
Third Party Verification of Energy Efficiency -The gold standard for this is Passive House (or Passivhaus in German) . Passive House certified homes are designed to achieve up to a 90% reduction in the cost to heat and cool a building. It is a rigorous standard that requires team work from the outset from the clients, architect, and builder. All subcontractors must also be completely on board to achieve the stringent air leakage requirement of less than .6 air changes per hour at 50 pascals of pressure. PHIUS (Passive House Institute U.S.) has recently teamed up with Energy Star and the Department of Energy to create a certification known as PHIUS Plus that combines the requirements of Passive House, Energy Star and the DOE Challenge Home- not for the meek or undedicated, but the end product is a well documented super house!
By reducing energy requirements so effectively, a Passive House can readily become a Net Zero Energy Home with the addition of a relatively small array of photovoltaic panels. Simply stated, a net zero energy home is a home that generates, on average, enough energy to balance what it consumes. Each time we build a net zero energy home, we feel we have achieved the true embodiment of our company name. However, it doesn't stop there! Some of our clients opt for Net Positive Energy Homes - a home that produces more energy than it uses. Such a home may be desirable if you wish to power an electric car using your home's PV panels, for example.
We also frequently certify our homes using the National Association of Home Builders Green Builders’ Standard. If you were certifying a home to PHIUS Plus, most of the criteria would already be covered. It is our belief that third party verified certifications will become increasingly meaningful in the future and will lead to a significantly improved resale value.
How does one achieve this level of performance?
The main components are the following:
Thermal Bridge Free Design- This is a tough one as structural engineers LOVE connections that result in thermal bridges. Architects are also accustomed to designing homes that have many elements that effectively transfer the temperature from outside to inside, any of which can compromise the performance of the home. This is where you need an architect that understands that this is not an insolvable problem, but an opportunity to come up with new ways of doing things. We have several architects we can recommend that share our passion for performance-based homes. Additionally, Passive House US (PHIUS) offers a pre-certification service in which they review your plan to let you know if you are on the right track before you get too far along - a very valuable service.
Air Tight Construction- The PHIUS requirement for air tightness is over ten times more stringent than the new, “more rigorous” International Code. This requires an unbending attention to detail and constant supervision to ensure that the air sealing effort is up to par. Everyone involved must be on board to achieve this goal. Building a high performance home is not business as usual for subcontractors. They must be trained to care about cutting a vent stack, for example, that is tight, sealed and gasketed… Not to pick on plumbers, but that is definitely not the norm! The air tightness is checked multiple times throughout construction using a blower door that we share with some colleagues of ours. By checking as we go, we can address the areas of concern while things are still accessible, thereby avoiding the potential for utter disappointment at the end when it is too late to do anything about it.
Fresh Air- When people hear about how airtight we build, they are understandably concerned about where the fresh air is coming from. If no fresh air was introduced to such a tight envelope, the air would get stale and funky in a hurry. To address this issue, we use an Ultimateaire Recuperator Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV), or the state-of-the-art Conditioning Energy Recovery Ventilator (CERV) by Build Equinox. In a code built house, you get your Air Changes per Hour (ACH) from air leakage coming up from moldy crawlspace air, and from leakage around doors and windows. This air is unfiltered and is not dehumidified. With the ERV, you are in control of how many ACH you would like, with filtered air. With the CERV, you can set limits for VOCs, CO2 and humidity. Which would you prefer?
Triple Pane Windows and Doors- If you go to all this trouble to have a thermal bridge free, airtight envelope, it would be pointless to install sub par domestic windows and doors. We have used super efficient windows and doors from Ireland, Germany, Canada, Lithuania, Poland and the U.S. No one in the region has more experience or contacts than us when it comes to providing you with viable, cost effective options for high performance triple pane windows and doors.
Passive Solar Principles- Passive solar principles have been around a long time - really since humans formed civilizations. This is no time to turn away from something that works, requires no electricity, has no moving parts to break, and functions as long as the sun comes up each day to passively heat and cool your home. The idea is simple: orient your house so that the long axis of the house runs east-west with the south facing elevation being as close to due south as possible. You then need to ensure that you have properly sized overhangs to effectively shade the summer sun while letting the winter sun in. All of that winter sun should be absorbed by some sort of thermal mass. A concrete floor is a great example - it will absorb the sun’s energy during the day, and release it during the evening. The result is a comfortable house without drastic swings in temperature. This simple technique can significantly reduce your heating and cooling costs with no additional cost of construction. It is a no-brainer…
Please contact us and let us know how we can help bring your vision to reality! We look forward to working with positive people in a collaborative effort to build a one of a kind, super efficient homes.