Why PassivHaus?

The PassivHaus concept represents today’s highest energy standard with the promise of slashing the heating energy consumption of buildings by an amazing 90%. Widespread application of the PassivHaus design would have a dramatic impact on energy conservation. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that buildings are responsible for 48% of greenhouse gas emissions annually and 76% of all electricity generated by U.S. power plants goes to supply the Building Sector [Architecture2030]. It has been abundantly clear for some time that the Building Sector is a primary contributor of climate-changing pollutants, and the question is asked: How do we best deal with our building energy needs and with those of our environment and of our pocketbook? In the realm of super energy efficiency, the PassivHaus presents an intriguing option for new and retrofit construction: in residential, commercial, and institutional projects.

A movement toward the construction of highly efficient houses originated in the late 1980’s, when a rigorous energy standard for new buildings was established in Sweden.   Swedish professor Bo Adamson and German physicist Wolfgang Feist designed a building system that met and even exceeded this standard – the PassivHaus. The standard is based on research first started in North America in the 1970’s and 80’s. The first prototype, a four-unit row house structure, was built in 1990 in Darmstadt, Germany.

Today, many in the building sector have applied this concept to design, and build towards a carbon-neutral future. Over the past 10 years more than 15,000 buildings in Europe – from single and multifamily residences, to schools, factories and office buildings – have been designed and built or remodelled to the PassivHaus standard. A great many of these have been extensively monitored by the PassivHaus Institut in Darmstadt, analyzing and verifying their performance. Even governmental agencies have started to adopt PassivHaus standards in their policy-making.

The PassivHaus concept is a comprehensive approach to cost-effective, high quality, healthy, and sustainable construction. It seeks to achieve two goals: minimizing energy losses and maximizing passive energy gains. Simple enough, but achieving these goals has led to extraordinary results: a PassivHaus uses up to 90% less energy for space heating and cooling than a conventionally constructed house. The PassivHaus standard is the world’s most rigorous standard for energy-efficient construction.

To attain such remarkable energy savings of 90%, PassivHaus designers and builders work together to systematically implement the following seven principles:

1. Super insulate
2. Eliminate thermal bridges
3. Create a building envelop that is infiltration-free through airtight construction
4. Provide proper ventilation by specifying energy or heat recovery ventilation
5. Specify high-performance windows and doors
6. Optimize passive-solar and internal heat gains
7. Model energy gains and losses using the PassivHaus Planning Package (PHPP)

The developers of the PassivHaus concept mastered the integration of all these developments into a functional system to create a highly energy-efficient building. This concept can reduce heating energy consumption as much as 90% or more.

The number of inhabited PassivHaus in Europe today approaches the tens of thousands. They are not limited to homes. Schools, office buildings, health facilities and large-scale housing projects have also been built to the PassivHaus Standard. This number, and the variety of designs, proves that the PassivHauss are not exotic research projects, but completely normal homes. Passive Homes are not full of complicated technology, but instead feature intuitive and simple devices, devices that any occupant can easily manage.

This approach to building represents a wonderful opportunity for American companies to grow and excel. While many of the products are already available in the U.S. market, advancement in building components, like windows and doors, are now limited and primarily imported from German manufacturers. American businesses, from engineers to manufactures, are poised to become the leaders in this area and part of our energy solution.

•    Information for this document was obtained from Homes for a Changing Climate, Passive Houses in the U.S. by KatrinKlingenberg, Mike Kernagis, and Mary James. ©2009 Aspen publishers.