Actively passive: Melding green living with a stylish design

Address: 229 Lankford Avenue
Ridge Street
Year Built:
 2,250 finished sq. ft., 360 unfinished
.11 acres
Curb Appeal:
7 out of 10
Listing Agent:
Eve Hesselroth, Frank Hardy, Inc. - 434-825-1878

There’s no question that this house stands out. It’s an architect-designed structure of over 2,600 square feet in a neighborhood of mostly smaller and older residences off Ridge Street on the near south side. And then there’s the asking price of $598,000, which makes it the most expensive house on the block.

But there are others reasons why this home is a stand-out, as well. To start with, it was the first house in the state of Virginia to earn the Passive House designation. Briefly, a Passive House is a nearly airtight building that limits cooling load, minimizes energy loss, and heats through passive solar gain combined with a mini-split (a small, ductless heat pump). High performance windows, minimized thermal bridging, superior insulation, and an energy recovery ventilator help reduce power bills by up to 90% while providing stellar indoor air quality. (For a more in-depth explanation, visit

And then there’s the emphasis that was placed on conservation and sustainability throughout the construction process. Stones from an old retaining wall on the site were incorporated into the terrace; a cherry tree harvested from the lot was used to make a bathroom vanity; and the slate found in the windowsills was sourced locally from Buckingham Slate. 

Plans were already in place for a home of this design when builder Bill Jobes and owner Fred Greenewalt decided to take on the task of getting the Passive House certification. Their motivation? To prove that it could be accomplished in an attractive way, without sacrificing design.

“We wanted to show that an energy efficient home doesn’t have to be boxy and boring,” Greenewalt says. 

The end result– complete with a side terrace, a tower designed to echo the style of a stately neighboring home, and an initial price tag of $699,000– has garnered a good bit of attention, and raised a few eyebrows.

The list price was driven by a number of factors. Some green materials cost more than conventional materials, due in part to the fact that there’s a smaller supply of them. And since the goal was to emphasize aesthetics, custom finishes, which added to the overall cost, were incorporated– a move that Greenewalt readily admits is neither cost-effective nor typical of most spec houses.

Some such finishes include both cork and red oak floors, custom solar shades above each window to reduce heat gain, dramatic backlighting along the open staircases, and numerous decks and windows to take advantage of the stunning views.

“You could certainly build a certified Passive House for less money,” says Greenewalt, who asserts that this is the direction in which construction should be moving. 

“These standards should basically be adhered to, regardless of certification,” he says. “It’s possible to build a very efficient house without meeting such stringent guidelines.”

He says the home, which features large open spaces designed for flexible use, now costs $20-25 per month in utilities, a figure that may double once there’s full-time occupant. But with hookups for solar panels and for rainwater recovery tanks, the potential exists for additional savings.

The home’s close proximity to the University and to the downtown area may also be a draw. With 3 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, a wonderful kitchen, and a one-car garage, this house could be just the ticket for the eco-conscious purchaser who doesn’t want to sacrifice style, or creature comforts.
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Read more on: Passive House


“We wanted to show that an energy efficient home doesn’t have to be boxy and boring,” Greenewalt says.

Judging from the pictures attached, they certainly failed in that endeavor. Boring is the first word that comes to mind.

"Fugly" was the first word I thought of.

Hmmm, tenth of an acre, partial basement at a third the footprint of the house,no garage. So they think it worth nearly $300/sq. ft. and the city thinks it's worth 75% of the asking price. Would a "reasonable and prudent buyer" go in hock for nearly $600K for this house? I would venture not, but in this market there are many buyers who are neither reasonable nor prudent...
On the bright side, one doesn't have much grass to cut...