Thoughts on PassivHaus

Origional Passivhaus, Darmstadt, Germany (source:

In the UK press there has recently been much buzz around ‘passive houses’ (PassivHaus in their origional German). After a bit of research I have found the source of this was a talk given by the leader of the PassivHaus Institute, Wolfgang Feist, when he visited London in November last year.

The term ‘PassivHaus’ refers to a specific construction standard for residential buildings which have excellent comfort conditions in both winter and summer.  These principles can be applied not only to the residential sector as the name suggests, but also to commercial, industrial and public buildings. Like LEED or BREEAM, PassivHaus is a voluntary standard for buildings to meet. In Western Europe these standard is that building must be designed to use less than 15kWh/m²/annum supplementary heat and no more than 120 kWh/m²/annum primary energy (total of heating, lighting, hot water, appliances and any cooling) and an air-tightness for the building envelope of n50 ≤ 0,6 /h. 

According to Fast Company PassivHaus homes run on roughly one-twentieth of the energy of a conventional house and only cost some 5% more to build. PassivHaus concentrates on energy efficiency holistically rather than just ‘low carbon’ alone.  Feist’s intention is to concentrate the proverbial mind of ‘developed’ countries on cutting energy consumption rather than utilising the land of poorer nations to feed their fuel needs. Dr Feist confounds this argument with the idea that energy saving that reduces consumption of imported fossil fuel is also a stimulus to the regional economy due to the new demand for the production of home-grown insulation and other products.

There are currently 15,000 passive homes in the world, most in Germany and Scandinavia (according to The Sunday Times). Pictured above is the original PassivHaus in Darmstault, Germany. There appears to be a real momentum to the PassivHaus movement now however; the European Parliament has proposed all new buildings meet passive-house standards by 2011. And it’s not just Europe, apparently Barack Obama told Barbara Waltersthe other day at he’s going to have the White House energy efficiency audited.

  1. January 29th, 2009 - 3:23 pm

    Passive Houses are now available in the US, too, and those interested in becoming Certified Passive House Consultants are encouraged to give me some competition. I just got word today from the Passive House Institute US,, that I passed my Exam and am one of the first 13 Certified Passive House Consultants (provisional for 2 years until I successfully get my first certified Passive House constructed). I’m working on two projects right now, one a single-family house, one a multi-family apartment building with community rooms that is part of an Ecovillage project in Michigan. Passive Houses give you the maximum energy bang for your buck by making it possible to eliminate furnaces or boilers, and give the client a building that is ready to move to Zero Energy for the least cost with the addition of renewable energy systems (I’d already been specializing in Michigan Zero Energy Homes and renewable energy system integration). The German Passive House beat the other 19 colleges entries in the 2007 Solar Decathlon – you, too, can learn the design methodology to be a winner! The Passive House Standard is applicable to commercial/ institutional projects as well as residential, and retrofits as well as new construction. I’ll never go back to building any other way – this is what humanity needs to avert climate change!

  2. March 15th, 2009 - 5:02 pm
    Nick Mole said:

    I note that in the US, you have anglicised the word Passivhaus. We already note especially in Ireland where there has been some Passivhaus building that this is open to abuse. A Passivhaus should retain the German spelling (its not so disimilar) and a Passivhaus can only be such if it has been certified to meet the stringent targets. Otherwise its not a Passivhaus which people pay good money for. In the UK, Passivhaus is under consideration as part of the building regulations. It will retain the German spelling as a Brand as well as a known energy target. I think this should be retained everywhere so everyone learns and knows what it is. Passive House, near Passivhaus or Passivhaus Lite should be considered anywhere between 40 and 20 KW/h per square meter per annum. and marketed as such.

    Best Wishes


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