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Passive House: What it is, Benefits and Tips

By Gareth Houterman


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Global warming is the probably highest risk that our planet is facing off against, and yet it is also one of the most disregarded subjects in the world right now.

That’s because we are too focused on the symptoms, which is why we can’t seem to find the core of the disease and cure it once and for all.

People only seem to care about the effects of global warming as opposed to dealing with it head-on. This is why it’s so common for people to try to solve world hunger, when one of its main causes is and it has always been global warming.

With that being said, there have been some attempts through which people have tried to tackle the issue at hand. One such solution that we have seen very positive results from is the introduction of the Passive House standard.

But what exactly is this Passive House standard, what are the benefits of it and most importantly, should you invest into a home like this?

Let’s find out together as we go over everything there is to know about Passive Houses, starting with the basics:

What is a Passive House?

What Is a Passive House

A Passive House is a highly energy efficient building standard that is known to combat global warming while also promoting indoor comfort and soundproofing.

For one, the main idea behind Passive Houses was to create an energy efficient home for everyone to live in, but as more and more ideas were bounced off of the board, we eventually got to the final product.

That’s how Passive Houses became one of the world’s leading energy efficiency standards.

But just because something is energy efficient that doesn’t mean that people will start putting their hard-earned money into.

Instead, its second function has to be comfort as well as affordability. Without these two key elements, Passive Houses wouldn’t sell in the first place.

The History of the Passive House

Olive Passive House by DEMO Architects
Olive Passive House by DEMO Architects / Photo by Chaunte Vaughn

The original concept, that was simply called Passive House, was started back in the year 1996 by the Passivhaus Institute from Darmstadt, Germany.

They were the ones that pioneered the idea of low-energy houses and they served as the blueprint for all of the modern-day energy sufficient architecture.

The design behind Passive House is actually very simple, as the company wanted to make use of the “passive” influences on the building itself, such as the sunshine, the shading and the ventilation.

This was done as a direct response to the negative side effects that come from using active heating and cooling systems such as air conditioning and central heating.

But that’s not all, as the original design also had in mind high levels of insulation and airtightness, which is why these buildings tend to use as much as 90% less energy than the typical home.

One of the main reasons as to why people invest into passive House homes is the fact that they are a lot more comfortable to live in, which is thanks to the consistent temperatures and the great air quality indoors.

Not only that but the insulation is also superior to your average home, as there is way less external and internal noise to deal with.

What Are the Requirements for Passive Homes?

Passive House Requirements
Photo by Passive House Institute

In order for a home to classify for the passive house standard, it first needs to hold a perfect score to these criteria:

  • Space heating – First and foremost, the energy demand for space heating should never exceed 15kWh/m2 of living space per year. At the same time, during peak demand it shouldn’t get any higher than 10W/m2. To put this into perspective, the average home needs as much as 100W/m2 per year.
  • Primary energy – At the same time, the total energy that is required for any and all of the domestic applications such as hot water, domestic electricity and heating should never exceed 60 kWh/m2 of living space every year.
  • Airtightness – Third of all, Passive House homes should be very airtight to the point where there shouldn’t be any more than 0.6 air changes per hour at a total pressure of 50 pascals.
  • Thermal comfort – Last but not least the living areas should not exceed 25C any more than 10 percent of the hours in any given year.

How To Build a Passive House?

How To Build a Passive House

If you are set on building yourself a Passive Home house, you will need to make sure that it adheres to the aforementioned four requirements.

Without those four pillars and these principles, your home will just be a standard home. This means that you will need to invest into workers that know how to achieve the intelligent passive design.

You should also take full advantage of the sun and the shade, because those two will become very important tools for you later on down the line.

Do Passive Houses Need Heating?

Watterson Passive House by Josefine Watterson
Watterson Passive House by Josefine Watterson / sustainableengineering.co.nz

You may think that with all of the environmental praises we’ve been giving passive houses, they’re pretty much soundproof when it comes to their heating requirements, but that’s not the case here.

Instead, passive houses need a lot less heating than your average home in the same climate, but they still need a little to make sure that you don’t freeze indoors.

As long as your home is airtight and well insulated, the indoor environment shouldn’t suffer in any way, shape or form.

Think of your Passive House as a good thermos. It will eventually lose its heat but at the same time, it requires a lot less to do so.

Do All Passive Houses Look Alike?

Solar panels on the roof of a passive house
Photo by Vanit่jan / stock.adobe.com

Interestingly enough, back in the 80s whenever we pictured smart houses, we usually portrayed them as following the exact same blueprint in order to excel in every category.

Luckily, this isn’t the case with modern-day Passive Houses, as they are not really bound to any specific style.

Instead, they do all have defining traits such as thick walls for example. These walls are used to insulate the building, which is a key defining trait of a Passive House.

At the same time, you will always find triple-glazed windows in every Passive House. These are also very important for the insulation of the home.

Are Passive Houses Comfortable to Live In?

Dalebright Passive House
Dalebright Passive House / lanefab.com

The one quality that is always found in every Passive House is the fact that they are all notably comfortable.

This is all thanks to the fact that the indoor temperature doesn’t change all that much, and at the same time there are no drafts that you’ll need to worry about.

If you happen to live in a busier area, you’ll also be happy to hear that their insulation and triple-glazed windows work in your favor, keeping your indoors very quiet and adding a level of privacy to whatever you’ve got going on inside.

We should also mention here how the air inside is very clean, which is mostly thanks to the fact that it is filtered.

What Are Passive Houses Built From?

SIP m3 House
SIP m3 House by Ian Hsü + Gabriel Rudolphy

The great majority of Passive Houses are built from something called SIPs, or Structural insulated panels. These materials serve as the framing, insulation and exterior sheathing all at the same time.

You can think of the Passive Houses as sandwich cookies, with the exterior and interior working in tangent with one another in order to provide you with that much needed insulation.

As far as what the SIPs are per se, you will need to figure that out by yourself. Luckily, there are more than a handful of options for you to consider.

As far as the outer layer of the cookie is concerned, you can go for something like Oriented Strand Board, metal, plywood or Sheetrock, depending on your budget.

The core on the other hand needs to be thermally insulating plastic foam. Luckily, by using SIPs you are pretty much minimizing the number of components you will need to get the job done.

Passive House Retreat
Passive House Retreat by ZeroEnergy Design

The panels themselves need to be anywhere between 8 and 10 feet wide and they can be up to 20 feet long in most cases.

The joints will need to be taped on both sides and the screw holes will be filled with spray foam to make sure that nothing gets through.

Continuous envelope is also a must for your Passive House as any sort of leaks will jeopardize your airtightness.

By far the largest sources of air leaks in any home out there are windows and doors, but luckily Passive Houses come with better seals and door sweeps to avoid any air leaks from happening.

Why Are Passive Houses More Energy Efficient?

Passive House by BPC Green Builders
Passive Home in Stamford by BPC Green Builders

The answer is simple, the airtightness of the Passive House standard makes it so that the indoor environment can easily be maintained without the use of any air conditioner or heater most of the year.

Just think about it like this, if the house is leaking air, it’ll get windier inside, but if you shut down the doors and windows, the warm air will not escape anytime soon which is why you won’t have to worry about turning on your heater anytime soon.

The Benefits of a Passive House

Now that we know what Passive Houses are and most importantly, what you need to build yourself one, how about we go over all of the benefits that come from living in a Passive House:

1. Helping the Environment

First and foremost, we just have to mention the fact that the more Passive Houses are built in the world, the healthier the environment will be.

While we can’t expect a few homes to completely stop pollution and global warming, let’s just say that if a small percentage of the new homes and buildings that are being built in the world were built to Passive House standards, we’d definitely see a change in the world.

2. Lower Utility Costs

But then again, the environment can’t really help us pay the bills any sooner, which is where the second benefit comes in.

That’s right, Passive House designs tend to eliminate the need for any sort of heating systems even if you happen to be living in a very challenging climate.

So, think about it like this, the bills for heating oil, natural gas and propane all become a thing of the past if you live in a super-insulated building.

3. Rebates and Tax Credits

Of course, specific tax incentives tend to vary depending on the year itself and the place you live in, but at the same time if you want to invest into a home that fits into the passive house standards you will be liable for grants, rebates and/or low-interest loans from a lot of different companies.

With their help you will be able to save up on the cost of the materials, appliances and structures needed to complete the construction.

4. Better Indoor Air Quality

By far the main selling point of all Passive Houses though is their controlled mechanical ventilation, which pretty much completely overrules the need for stale, humid and “polluted” indoor air.

Passive Houses are known for their high efficiency ventilation systems, as they pull the air from the high-moisture or odor-producing rooms and they pump fresh air inside to replace it.

5. Elevated Comfort

Another key selling point of the Passive House is the overall elevated comfort that comes with living in such a place.

That’s because the temperature indoor will very rarely fluctuate from room to room, and at the same time there is a lot less noise coming from the outside at all times.

6. Construction Quality and Durability

In order for your home to qualify for the passive house certification standard, it will need to be built to the best possible modern standards.

This means that your home will need to be durable and well-built, so if you are opting for a Passive House you will need for it to be up to par with these standards.

7. Peace and Quiet

The high-performance windows as well as the insulated doors and walls of your home will allow very little noise to enter your house and disrupt your life.

Not only that but the low energy consumption of the fans will also make it so that the unit is very quiet at all times. The duct work will also do its part as it will help reduce any and all of the noise inside of the home.

8. Reduced Reliance on Outside Power

A lot of people believe that building a Passive House means that you will be going “off the grid” entirely, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

While you will be a lot less reliant on any outside power whatsoever, you will still decrease that reliance on oil, coal or natural gas, to the point where you will instantly start to feel the difference.

At the same time, the low-energy consumption that Passive Houses require will allow you to get either some or even all of your home’s electricity through solar panels or wind turbines.

9. Value

While the average Passive Home will cost you a lot more upfront to build than the standard home, you will still be saving a lot of money over the next couple of years because of the aforementioned benefits.

According to the Passive House Institute US, while building a Passive Home will require an additional investment of around 10 percent to get the job done, you will more than make up most of that money within the next couple of years or so.

10. The Coolness Factor

Last but not least we couldn’t help but mention the fact that as of September 2010, there were only around 13 certified passive houses in the US.

Back then, there were as many as 2,000 visitors that came over to see the original Passive House in the Woods only six weeks before it was bought out in October of 2010.

What we wanted to say with this is the fact that their green building factor helps them sell very quickly, as they are very popular.

So, if you want to get the bragging rights of living in a “building from the future”, you can always just invest into a Passive House.


Passive House by Karawitz Architecture
Passive House by Karawitz Architecture

Passive Houses may not be in everyone’s price range, and we do understand that. But if you do have the money to build your dream house up to Passive House standards, definitely go for it.

As mentioned previously, if you can get past that initial price hurdle, you will eventually make your money back, and you will get to live in one of the coolest and most environmentally-friendly buildings in the world right now.

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About Gareth Houterman

Gareth is a passionate architecture and interior design enthusiast with a degree from Rice University’s prestigious architecture program. His journey to becoming a sought-after design expert includes contributing to several major architecture publications before joining HomeDSGN. Learn more about HomeDSGN's Editorial Process.

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