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Highly efficient 'passive homes' gain ground in US

PHILADELPHIA — After decades of near silence, a passive voice is being heard in American architecture.

So-called passive houses, which have been around in Europe but never really caught on in the United States, are basically built around the idea of making houses airtight, super-insulated and energy efficient.

The goal is a house that creates nearly as much energy as it consumes. Think of being able to keep your house warm without a traditional big furnace, cool with no air conditioning unit.

Signature features often include thick outside walls and roofs, highly insulated windows and frames, and a super-efficient heating and cooling system.

Philadelphia firm Onion Flats has made passive low-income housing as well as high-priced luxury homes. They say these homes can be built on a budget.