PassivHaus – Is it the Future of Home Building?

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The idea of energy efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions is not a new one. But it is one we are hearing more and more about in recent times. and when it comes to reducing energy, the name PassivHaus can easily be thrown into the conversation.

The Architecture?

Passivhaus architects are the people who are carrying forward the method designed by Dr Wolfgang Feist in Germany. The method first came to the fore some two decades ago, so you could say he was ahead of his time. His method for home building doesn’t focus on CO2 emissions or using materials from sustainable sources. Instead it focuses on building homes with two energy requirements – that of space heating and another which applies to other energy requirements as well. These include main appliances and hot water.

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Do we need to ensure we adhere to the ideals of this method?

In a word, no. In the UK we have to build according to the Code for Sustainable Homes. Some self builders are excited about the German model for building and are sticking with this method too, giving themselves even more targets to hit in the process.

But how effective is the PassivHaus standard? The cost of a new build is typically worked out to how much you pay per square metre. It has been calculated that this German ideal will cost you significantly more to adhere to, as it affects every single part of your new home. Suddenly a standard that sounded like very good news doesn’t sound quite so appealing, especially since this is optional and the Code in the UK is mandatory.

Does it suit your lifestyle?

This is the main thing to think about before you opt to meet the conditions imposed by one of these German houses on top of the conditions applied through the Code for Sustainable Homes. If you were to compare a Code built home with one built to the German standard, the main source of energy is very different. More than half the energy in the PassivHaus goes to power, while just over half the energy in a Code built home is given to space heating. In fact the amount of energy given to power in a UK Code built home is half that of the PassivHaus.

So you have to bear this in mind when you are thinking about this option on top of the requirement laid down by the Code for Sustainable Homes. If you are going to build a brand new home you have to adhere to the Code. But you don’t have to pay any attention to the ‘passiv’ way of building. While some home builders have become obsessed with the German way, it may not have been prudent to do so. After all, it is said the UK Code for Sustainable Homes provides a far more in depth and demanding set of criteria to adhere to. Isn’t that the main thing you should bear in mind when building your own eco-friendly home?

What are your thoughts on PassivHaus?

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Comment by Intus Windows on March 29, 2013 at 7:30am

Please consider following when choosing windows: low quality windows need to be replaced more often, high performance windows increase comfort and quality of life, reduce drafts, condensation, possible mold growth and energy consumption. Gas prices might change in 5 years as it did many times before.


Intus Windows

Comment by Ken Watts on March 28, 2013 at 1:00pm

To Intus Windows

I look for payback.  With natural gas prices what they are, payback is a long time coming.  Initial cost is critical.

Must have lower premium window costs.

Comment by Tom DelConte on March 28, 2013 at 7:29am

PassivHaus criteria of 120 kWh/m² energy use is too high for modern times; it'd be better to advocate 0 energy use, as in a ZEB, net zero-energy building.

Comment by Intus Windows on March 28, 2013 at 7:09am

Hi everybody,

Nowadays Passive House standard becomes more and more popular. People order energy efficient windows for both window replacement and new projects. Intus Windows is interested what do people pay attention to when they want to order energy efficient windows?

Please join the blog and help us out with the answer:

Comment by Barbara Smith on March 26, 2013 at 10:22am

Here is a certified Passive House built recently in western Wisconsin.  It is also available as a kit.

Photos here:

Comment by Lenka Rihova on March 4, 2013 at 8:50am

I think some people are misinterpreting this article. It is in no means suppose to be anti passive haus.

This article is to raise the question about the future of home building regulations in regards to energy efficiency.

Comment by Greg La Vardera on March 1, 2013 at 12:29pm

Tom, I think I've clearly agreed with your description. In fact I don't think anybody here has disagreed with that. There is no argument about that, at least not here.

If these facts were enough to convince people to build this way they would already be doing it, and we certainly would not need to impose it as a code.

But the fact is our appraisal system is deeply flawed, and such investments in performance do not result in higher valuations, and so lenders will not fund them, developers and builders can not profit from them, and so they just don't happen. Code won't change that - reform in lending and appraisals will.

Comment by Tom Samuel Johnson on March 1, 2013 at 11:21am

It's very strange that there are still arguments about passive house efficiency and affordability. It's not a myth, let's look at the first passive house duplex in Washington DC. According to Intus Windows, which was the winner of affordability award, the total cost to build a dup;ex house was $250k. Duplex house consumes such a little energy, that it looks like a miracle for two low-income families living there.

Also in this case I would like to mention Case Study by Intus Windows. They did energy load calculations for the 9 floor building (725-15th Street NW). During the calculations all characteristics were taken the same, the only one difference was windows. They picked one pane and triple pane windows in comparison. Of course price for triple pane windows was bigger, but calculated payback period was just 58 months due to reduced heat and cooling costs. And this is just because of energy efficient windows. Combining highly efficient windows, walls and roof insulation and all other characteristics being improved, the building can save up to 80-90% energy costs. So after few years it not only pays back, but starts to go like an extra money to your pocket. And looking at the 9 floor building, monthly saving for energy costs will be huge not talking about the benefits!

And there are tons of examples like those I could mention. Nowadays passive house is really affordable, just it takes some effort and planning, but it's so worth it. Passive House standard is not a dream, it's the future.

Comment by Greg La Vardera on February 27, 2013 at 4:55pm

David, you mis-understand my posts. You are reacting to my comments about the fictional spray foam.

We do have everything we need to build high performance houses today, and yes they cost somewhat more, and yes energy savings pay for that cost. 

But codes are not going to get us there - just as you noted about PA - interests with more sway than us will keep that at bay. 

What needs to happen is to proliferate the affordable techniques that you mention. Sell the consumer on better performance and the builders will follow. And first of all is to serve that early adopter who wants and is willing to pay for better performance now. Ultimately they will sell the other consumers.

Comment by David Eakin on February 27, 2013 at 4:30pm


I'd like one also! Like you, I am where I am - in a 1930's double-wythe brick house with a great deal of large windows.  So you do what you can; where it makes sense.  I switched from oil heat/domestic hot water to natural gas. Where practical, I've created a new/insulated stud wall against the brick.  I had the original wood windows replaced with double-pane/low-e/argon-filled replacement units (primarily for ease of opening/cleaning and reduction in outdoor maintenance).  I added fiberglass batt insulation in the attic over the insulated ceiling joists. I built an 8" gasketed foam cover for our attic stairs.  I installed a high-capacity bath fan to remove excess moisture. I replaced our ordinary clothes dryer flapper unit with another that more definitively closes off when not in use.  Switched to CFLs where it made sense. Installed reflective "honeycomb" bliinds against all those large windows.  Always on the lookout for ways to improve at an affordable price.

But I'd really like to build a passive solar/Passive House some day... As for builder integrity: I have found a few in my locale, but there are many more whose work I've audited that I would not recommend.  One of those builders actually builds all his houses to Energy Star standards, whether or not the customer wants it certified.



I disagree with your position on (the energy savings portion of) building codes.  High standards ARE achievable NOW by any builder who really wants to build a long-term energy efficient home.  And the costs usually are no more for the home owner (higher sales/mortgage costs are balanced by lower operating costs) but the comfort levels are vastly better (and maybe future resale too). And the building codes do impact retrofit, depending on degree of change and local interpretations/implementations/enforcement.  My experience has been that builders (for the most part) are only concerned with maximizing their profits (by always going low bidder and not mentioning more rigorous building programs where they would be held accountable by independent auditors/raters), lobby representatives to make building codes more lax (I just heard that PA has decided to delay adoption of the latest energy codes until 2016)  and really do not have the customers' best interests at heart.  But they ARE made to build homes to code.  I believe the way you turn the hearts and mind of builders to actually build energy efficient homes is to MAKE them.  Make the codes reflect currently achievable energy savings and (almost) everybody wins. The good builders will adapt and make profits. The grumblers who refuse to change will go out of businiess.  But ALL houses will be built with a lower operating cost and higher comfort level (and some - like future versions of Passive House - will be even better). 

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