Energy-efficient builders in Maine like to point out that their state has some of the oldest housing stock in the nation. Unfortunately, that also means that Mainers — many of whom heat their homes with oil — pay some of the steepest heating bills in the country during the long, dark winter.

But for builders who focus on high performance, Maine offers a classic opportunity to replace some of the nation's worst housing with some of its best. Case in point: an affordable multi-family project in Brewer, Maine that's shooting for Passive House certification. The Bangor Daily News has the story (see:Brewer's 'passive housing' project largest of its kind in US," by Nick McCrea).

"The three-story building at 266 Center St. will include 21 one-bedroom apartments, 17 two-bedroom apartments and 10 three-bedroom apartments, as well as a community playground and garden and laundry facilities," the Daily News reports. "Village Centre residents will have to meet certain income eligibility requirements, falling into a bracket of the workforce that typically includes nurses, firefighters and others with similar earning potential, according to Erin Cooperrider, Community Housing of Maine development director."

The project is ambitious in scale as well as in energy performance, the Daily News reports: "Colin Schless of Thornton Tomasetti, the firm managing the passive house certification work, said during Wednesday's groundbreaking that this would be the largest passive housing development in the country, at least for the time being. Other large projects, including several in Oregon, are in development or planning stages but still don't reach the scale of the 54,400-square-foot development in Brewer, he said."

Portland, Maine, architect Jesse Thompson's not so sure about that claim, however. Thompson points to the Orenco Station project under construction in the western suburbs of Portland, Oregon — "much larger (57 units) and further into construction," says Thompson.

Oregon's Passive House project may be bigger, but Maine's, to be fair, is harder: the Brewer project is happening in a much tougher climate, and so will likely deliver the greater payoff in avoided energy consumption (and carbon emissions reduction). (Portland, Oregon sees about 4500 heating degree days in a year, while Bangor, Maine sees more like 7600 heating degree days per year.)

Editor's Note: Passive House consultant Colin Schless, a senior project director at Portland, Maine, firm Thornton Thomasetti, defended his project's claim to be the biggest Passive House project in the nation to date. In a note to JLC, Schless said: "We've checked with PHIUS to confirm the Orchards at Orenco project size, and have confirmed that their website lists it as 42,584 square feet, whereas our project is just over 54,000 square feet." All nit-picking aside, Schless comments: "The important takeaway here is that the industry is changing and we're building really efficient multifamily houses. This is really (really) exciting."