Well-Built Dumb Home

  • One of the smartest things ever said about building a new home, was about something dumb:

"A Well-Built Dumb Home beats the Smart Thermostat Every Time" - Mike RogersOmStout Consulting

Mike said this in response something I shared on LinkedIn, which was a blog post written by the British architect, Elrond Burrell, known for his PassivHaus musings, where he discusses 12 Things He Learnt From The Passivhaus Designer’s ManualHere's it is:

"The more that's talked, taught and "learnt" about PassivHaus and/or Passive House, the more it should be noted that it's just design and construction done well, and in concert, that gets a building to meet the requirements. Reading through Elrond Burrell's post about what he learned from the Passivhaus Designer's manual, you might see what I'm talking about. Relative to the expectations of most building codes and departments, and the people buying the homes, #PassivHaus and #PassiveHouse requirements "raise the bar". BUT, the way I see it, it's just a job well done"

I received a "Totally Agree" from Elrond, and in response to Mike's comment about the well-built dumb home, another well-respected industry leader, Robert Bean, whose musings about architecture, anthropology and radiant based heating, ventilation and air conditioning can be found on his weekly journalBean's Blog, followed up Mike's comment with:

Because he did! The point Mike makes in his comment, and that Jodi and I agree with and practice every day, is that not a single smart technology will outperform or outlast smart design and craftsmanship. A smart thermostat will not outperform or outlast a perfect building enclosure.

Figure 1. Example of A Perfect Residential Building Enclosure

Pairing "dumbed-down", very simple and user-friendly technologies in a home that lasts, and is comfortable for 500-years or more, will "win" every time. In the eyes of the "smart" professional, and more importantly in the eyes of the "smart" homeowner, the dumber the home is, the happier everyone is, and forever.

What Qualifies as "Well-Built"?

Well-Built, at least the way we see it, means spending more time and effort on the details during design, as well as more time in the field building those details. The investment goes in to making the house durable, comfortable, simple to use, and self-sufficient. In a well-built home, the interior environment is comfortable because of the "passive" nature of the building enclosure. In fact, there's NOTHING the homeowner can do to change this. They don't need to, it happens passively. Hence, Passive House or PassivHaus.  ((Passive House and PassivHaus are not the same as Passive Solar. Passive solar is allowing the sun's heat to passively travel through glass to heat the air in the interior spaces of a home. This is a very different and separate practice, and it's not appropriate for every climate. Passive House and Passivhaus approach is very specific to each climate, and works everywhere))

In a dumb, passive home, when mechanical assistance is needed, it doesn't require lots of training for the homeowner, that will likely be forgotten soon after it's "learned", for lack of practice. Just think of a foreign language learned in high school. Other than how to say "beer", "wine", "hello" and the random exclamation, do we remember much without practice? Yes, some do retain better than others. I'm just sayin'.

Idiot Proof is Not the Only Reason for a Dumb Home

Just this past week, one of our clients sent me this article in a text saying, "Here's another good reason to AVOID "smart" technologies".

The Government Just Admitted it Will Use Smart Home Devices for Spying, by 

While the goal of such "spying" is to track down the bad people, which, thankfully, none of our clients are, there is a looming concern that "Big Brother" has access to good people's lives, too. Whether you care, agree or disagree with it, believe it to be true or not, this is a real thing for many who value privacy. The dumber the house, car, or any personal possession is, the happier some people are. This same client, in fact, said:

"I want my home as dumb as possible"

In Praise of the Dumb Home

I'm not the first to write about the "dumb home". In 2014, Lloyd Alter, Mr. Treehugger.com, himself, wrote a very intriguing post about the overwhelming number of and complicatedness of available smart technologies. From Bosch wanting to Wire our Windows, to a Wi-Fi Connected Crock Pot. He includes some very good advice in his post, from Low-Tech Magazine writer, Kris DeKrees, that we also like to give to our clients:

"Insulation of the body is much more energy efficient than insulation of the space in which this body finds itself. Insulating the body only requires a small layer of air to be heated, while a heating system has to warm all the air in a room to achieve the same result."

In other words:

"Insulation: First the Body, Then the Home"

Thanks for stopping by and reading today's post! Now, let's be smart and build a dumb home!

- Chris Laumer-Giddens

Chris Laumer-Giddens, LG Squared

Views: 832

Tags: High, Home, House, PassivHaus, Passive, Performance, building, design, dumb, good, More…home, science, smart, technologies, well-built


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Comment by Kobus Niemand on November 7, 2016 at 8:13am

Great article, kind of preaching to the converted here but all your points are valid, today's construction is all geared toward being as cost effective as possible, often negating build-quality in the process. I think that older homes are the better option for home buyers as these 'dumb homes' offer a build quality that came from and era when building margins werent razor thin and artisans took pride in their work more seriously than making a profit.

oh well....

thanks & regards,


Comment by Chris Laumer-Giddens on February 22, 2016 at 10:07am

So true, Danny. Style definitely draws a higher demand and more emotion from the homeowner than CFM50 and HERS. I happen to be a weirdo and get equally emotional about both, and I'm not waiting for any of it to become widespread. Everything carries equal weight with no segregation of priorities. It's a risky M.O., but one that will have a more rewarding payoff for us and those we serve. What comes around, goes around. 

Comment by Danny Gough on February 22, 2016 at 9:49am

The choir loves the message. However, our crusade will always be restricted to the niche few who revel in sustance and performance and relish chatter about CFM(50) and HERS Indexes. Until we recognize that the masses always value style and peer praise above function, it will be years before Passive Haus principles et al become widespread. 

Dr Gian Buttoni, former Director of Ferrari North America said, “The better you are at evoking emotions, the higher price you can command.” I will add, the better we will also be at market transformation. 

Comment by Tony Hicks on February 22, 2016 at 9:38am

Great article

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