The World's First Passivehaus Dentist's Office

Going to the dentist can be stressful. It’s no fun to hold your jaw open while someone picks and pokes at you, and you better hope you don’t have cavities. If you’re already enduring these unpleasantries, the last thing you want to deal with is a faulty a/c unit, superfluous noise or pungent odor. A Virginia-based innovator, Adam Cohen, has an idea for a better office, not just for the doctor or patient, he claims, but for the environment. We visited the green design enthusiast and veteran architect on site at the world’s first Passivhaus dentist office, to walk us through the advantages of adapting the German housing efficiency standard to commercial-scale projects.

His company, Structures Design/Build, uses energy-efficient design and construction to create natural airflow. Drs. Randolph Dickey, John Singleton and Sean Lynch hired the company to design their new Roanoke, Virginia dentist office, adding to Cohen’s portfolio of Passivhaus schools, dorms and houses. Cohen says Passivhaus designs allow for a quieter, cleaner energy-saving cooling system.

Cohen came up during the 1970s energy crisis. He thought eco-friendly design was the next hot trend and began designing energy-efficient houses in the early 80s. A few years later, he said, the demand just wasn’t there, so he was forced to put his green design dreams on pause. Years later, Cohen received the jolt he needed during a family dinner, when his son asked something to the effect of, “If you knew about Global Warming back in the 70s, why aren’t you doing anything about it now?”

Flash forward to 2014: green construction costs are down and demand is up. Structures Design/Build says the dentist office cost $155 per square foot to build. Cohen says instead of the $1,100/month usually spent on energy, this office now spends just $325. Structures Design/Build’s approach costs a little more than standard construction methods (they estimate 3% higher upfront costs), but the efficiency upgrade yields a return on investment and then some over the course of a building’s lifetime.

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