Passive House, Passivhaus, what's in a name?

Passivehouse +
Screen capture Passive House Plus

The Passivhaus or Passive House movement is still relatively small and controversial in North America, and there are not that many projects (particularly that are not single family houses in the woods) to write about. What a joy it was then to discover a new magazine from Ireland, with a UK edition, that is just full of more great green designs of passive houses, multifamily projects, schools office buildings and even boathouses than you could imagine actually existed. I will be dining on this in the pages of TreeHugger for weeks to come. However I was a bit surprised by the name, Passive House +. I thought they stuck with the original German term, Passivhaus in the UK. It turns out is was a tough call.

I have noted in the past that I preferred Passivhaus because it can be thought of as a brand; I think Passive house is generic and confusing. When writing about about this stuff it is easier to not have to explain every time that we are talking about a standard, not a design principle. Years ago I wrote:

Perhaps the confusion stems from the North American fear of things foreign; (remember Freedom Fries?) when the concept came to America they named it the Passive House Institute US , whereas in Britain they call it PassivHausUK, which I think clearly sets itself as being distinct from the idea of passive design.

The editors explain their rationale:

There are a few reasons we went with the English spelling, the most obvious being that it's in our first language. But there are others too — we feel it offers more clarity, and that using the English version makes it more obvious what the term actually means. But there are arguments on the side of 'passivhaus' too. For one, it doesn't include 'house', which makes writing about non-dwellings a lot easier: 'passivhaus school' looks fine, but 'passive house school' is clumsy and confusing.

The consensus among their (mostly UK) readers was that it was a bad call, that they should have stuck with Passivhaus. Two years ago I would have agreed; but that was before the civil war started in the United States between the secessionists and the loyalists. (For more on this, see related links to the left) It's seriously tainting the brand.

Passive House + (particularly with that plus sign) avoids getting stuck in a niche of a niche. The editors note that "There's a danger that if we make passive house a certified-or-nothing standard, lots of great buildings won't get the recognition they deserve." If you are going to fill a magazine with so much great green content, you need a bigger tent.

Great green reading at Passive House +

Tags: Ireland | passive house