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Energy-Efficient Living: What is a Passive House?

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Energy-Efficient Living: What is a Passive House?
4 min. read

Image: Radovan1 / Shutterstock.com

When thinking about your future home, you might have come across the term passive house. But what does it mean? For those striving to be energy efficient, it’s a great idea to delve deeper into the topic. However, information from official sources can be overly complicated, so we’ve broken it down into bite-size chunks. Find out more below.

The basics

In a nutshell, passive homes are designed to save energy, improve air quality, and reduce noise pollution. The term passive house can also be defined as a set of building standards that can be applied to residential, commercial, and public buildings. This standard is widely considered to be the most energy-efficient in the world and, besides reducing energy costs, it promotes a higher level of indoor comfort.

The passive house building standard focuses on making the most out of natural, passive influences in the home, such as sunshine, shade, and ventilation, to heat and cool the building. In doing so, it removes the need for active, or traditional, cooling and heating methods (such as furnaces and AC). Passive homes are designed with high levels of insulation and airtightness, resulting in a home that uses up to 90% less energy than a more typical dwelling.

How do they work?

The passive house building standard follows 5 basic principles, that allow any building that is built in the right way to meet strict energy consumption criteria.

  1. Solar orientation
  2. Insulation and zero thermal bridging
  3. Airtightness
  4. Passive House Institute approved windows
  5. High-performing ventilation and heat exchange 

Together, these 5 principles and the technologies they employ enable you to maintain a constant temperature throughout your home all year round, without actively doing anything. So, there’s no need for thermostats or HVAC systems.

The benefits of a passive house

Passive houses benefit the environment, as well as the homeowner, at very little extra cost.

Lower energy consumption

Since passive houses are built to maximize natural thermal gains and minimize thermal losses, very little heating is actually required, and there’s no need for a furnace or boiler. Renewable energy sources such as solar panels can store and distribute energy if and when it’s needed, cutting energy usage by as much as 90%, while low energy appliances and lighting systems help further reduce energy consumption.

Air quality

A higher quality of air is another standard feature of a passive house, as older air is constantly being swapped for fresh, filtered air. This constant, low-level airflow also ensures comfort and prevents overheating.

Reduced noise pollution

With high levels of insulation and airtightness, noise pollution is also vastly reduced, ensuring you can get a good night’s sleep or party without disturbing the neighbors.

Versatile

The passive house building standard can be applied to pretty much any building. As such, any style of house can be a passive house, from the classic Cape Cod to an ultra-modern apartment block. In many cases, even an older house can be transformed into a passive house.

Year-round comfort

Living in a passive house is also extremely comfortable throughout the year, as there are no drafts, and very minor temperature changes, even near doors and windows. Opening windows and doors will also make very little difference, and the ‘normal’ temperature will quickly return upon closing them.

No mold or damp

Since the building is airtight, you might think that mold and damp could be a major issue. Fortunately, that’s not the case, and constant, low-level ventilation ensures that moist air is soon replaced and that temperatures remain consistent, removing the possibility of mold altogether. As a further bonus, it’s also less likely that bugs will get into your home.

The disadvantages of a passive house

The advantages of a passive house certainly outweigh the disadvantages, but it’s well worth knowing both sides of the story.

  • Higher upfront cost: a passive house is generally 5-10% more expensive than a traditional home. However, with reductions of up to 90% on your utility bills, this may soon pay off.
  • Potential lower resale value: unfortunately, going green is a low priority for many homeowners in the US, and you may find it difficult to find a buyer who sees the worth in your passive house. Generally, location plays a large role, with politically progressive cities and markets being more suitable.
  • Ugly? A common misconception many people have about passive houses is that they’re ugly. This belief is mostly due to older models that were built from rougher materials. However, nowadays you can build a passive house in more or less any style, using any exterior finish you like, from log cabins to ultra-modern mansions.

 

Now that you know the basics of passive houses, you might be tempted to dive right in! However, knowledge is power. Make sure you know as much as possible about the pros and cons, and about the expenses, before you commit to building your own energy-efficient passive home.

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