I recently edited this article and thought it’d be a good idea to put it back on the blog as an entry. This entry is permanently linked on the right hand side under pages.

Passive House is a rigorous, voluntary building energy standard focusing on superior energy efficiency and quality of life at low operating cost.

Passive House is the highest certified building energy standard in the world, with the promise of reducing the total energy consumption of buildings by up to 90%, while providing superior comfort and indoor environmental quality. When combined with renewable energy systems such as solar photovoltaic or solar thermal, Passive House puts true zero energy buildings and carbon neutrality within reach.

The name Passive House is derived from the German term “Passiv Haus”, which describes a building with an extremely reduced (passive) heating system, versus conventional buildings with large (active) systems.

Energy Conservation First

Passive House is an “energy conservation first” approach. The basic idea is to radically minimize heat loss through effective heat retention, and maximize passive solar and internal heat gains. In our local climate, the sun can provide up to 50% of the energy needed to heat a Passive House. Internal heat gains from people and equipment can provide an additional 15%.

The Passive House building energy standard limits the amount of energy a building can consume per square foot of usable floor space and year. The limit for heating and cooling energy is 4.75kBtu, and the limit for source energy accounted for at the utility provider is 38kBtu. Air tightness of the structure is limited to 0.6 air changes at 50 Pascal pressure, or about 0.1 cubic feet per minute.

Designs are modeled with a scientific energy modeling software called the Passive House Planning Package, and field tested for various parameters during and after construction. Design and field testing are submitted to the Passive House Institute U.S. for certification.

With its low energy consumption—as little as 10% of standard code-compliant buildings—Passive House buildings perform at an estimated 15 on the HERS scale, meet the 2020 requirements for the Architecture 2030 Challenge today, and can meet energy and carbon neutral goals for operation with a modest amount of renewable energy systems.

Passive House buildings are certified by the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS).

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  • mike says:

    while i applaud the goals of passivhaus, i find their insistance that ‘Passive House is the highest certified building energy standard in the world’ to be a bit off.

    plusenergiehaus-standard and living building challenge have stricter energy standards.
    http://www.plusenergiehaus.de/files/pics/4522balkendiagramm.jpg

    PH may be more widely accepted (and attainable) and it’s great to see it become more popular in the states. but frankly, i’d be more interested if we have more ZED/plusenergiehaus/LBC – qualified projects.

  • Tim Eian says:

    Mike,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree with you on the fact that more net energy positive buildings need to be constructed. We are working on the Passive House in the Woods project right now, which would fit that description.

    The assertion of Passive House being the “highest certified building energy standard in the world” may be a bit “too marketing”, yet I am not aware of a current certification for “Plus Energie Haus”, or net energy positive buildings. From what I can tell, that is a term that Rolf Disch’s architecture firm has coined for their buildings. I’ve long admired his work, and in Germany, he truly is a pioneer of buildings that make more energy than they consume.

    Maybe it is time to start such a certification. However, I would like to make a case for Passive House in this regard. It’s extremely low energy consumption makes a great platform for energy neutrality and beyond. Renewables are pricey stuff. I am still a big fan of conservation first. But there are probably many ways to achieve a similar performance, e.g. a less insulated building with more renewables may achieve the same energy goal. At that point, we may need to start a discussion about embodied energy and make a lifecycle comparison. There is so much more exciting stuff to be figured out. I look forward to that discussion.

  • mike says:

    the ‘PH im wald’ project sounds interesting. I’ll try and follow the blog to see how it unfolds.

    You might be right in that the PEH isn’t yet a standard, my understanding from working in Freiburg was that he was in the process of pushing it. In either case, I’m also looking forward to seeing (and hopefully working on) more net zero energy projects, and have been following a few projects attempting to attain LBC (net zero energy/water)

    Rolf’s work has been getting better and better. The issue of energy performance v. conservation is definitely an important one. Embodied energy is also another biggie, which is another point which LBC attempts to mandate.

    As for low-energy buildings that attempt to minimize insulation use, my former employer, pfeifer.kuhn (www.pfeifer-kuhn.de) have some very interesting projects.

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