What is Passive House?

Passive House is a concept, an international building standard and methodology, applicable to buildings of all kinds from office buildings to hospitals, new-build and renovations, that results in a dramatic drop in operational energy use, and more comfortable and healthy occupants – meant to aggressively mitigate our climate crisis while providing high-quality construction and resilient adaptation that is affordable and accessible to everyone. 

The Passive House Standard was developed by the Passive House Institute (PHI), an independent scientific research organization, located in Darmstadt, Germany, and includes specific requirements for energy use and comfort of occupants. The Passive House Standard is being successfully applied to thousands of buildings and millions of square feet around the world, from Boston to Beijing. 

The Passive House methodology starts with reducing cooling, dehumidification and heating loads by focusing, not on gadgets and active technology, but instead on fully integrated durable passive building components, such as proper continuous thermal-bridge-free insulation, continuous airtightness, high-performance windows and doors, and ventilation that includes a high-efficiency heat/energy recovery core, carefully calculated, and all integrated with the entire architectural process of design and construction.

The term Passive House can describe four things: 

  • A concept of efficiency based on occupant comfort and health discovered by the Passive House Institute: the Passive House definition.
  • An international building standard, developed by the Passive House Institute, to implement the Passive House concept worldwide: the Passive House Standard
  • A pathway and set of fundamental tools for reaching that standard, such as certified professionals, components and buildings, employing five basic principles in a calculated energy balance, developed by the Passive House Institute: Passive House methodology.
  • A building that uses the methodology and meets the international Passive House Standard: a Passive House building.

The Passive House methodology, standard and concept are realized by starting with a common focus on five basic building science principles. These principles are not the whole story but ensure that before active systems are designed the building design itself is optimized.

Passive House has rightly been identified as the best tool we have today to cause dramatic reductions of building energy use and carbon emissions – reductions proportional to what the climate crisis demands.

Yet, while that’s true, we must remind ourselves that Passive House is counterintuitively, based instead on human comfort and health. Efficiency is effectively a byproduct. Passive House reveals that comfort and healthy living is not a luxury, but is inextricably tied to providing fundamental building performance.

Passive House is better understood not as another incremental step toward higher performance but as a different way to think and work. It’s a different attitude, a re-engagement with the fundamentals of building: the materials, the components, the systems, and the integration of them all – creating an architectural structure, in which the structure itself produces a dramatically reduced energy balance. The structure itself is the driving force of occupant health and comfort, of affordability, and of resilience. Passive House jumps to the end game.

Consequently, Passive House changes the way we think and work.  

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