Passivhaus Precedents: Zero Energy House from 1970s recognized with award

© courtesy of Torben Esbensen

Isaac Newton wrote about his work, acknowledging those before him: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." The idea of the Passivhaus, or Passive House building system, is often seen as an original mix of super-insulation, tight envelope and controlled ventilation, when in fact lot of people were looking at many of the key principles back in the seventies.

That's why it is so encouraging to see the Passivhaus Institute is honoring those who came before with the Passive House Pioneer Award. According to Passivhaus founder Wolfgang Feist, the award acknowledges these predecessors. Feist says they " call to mind the important historical milestones and appropriately appreciate their significance."

This year's winner is the Zero-Energy House, built in Copenhagen in the 1970s by Vagn Korsgaard (1921 – 2012) and Torben Esbensen. From the press release:

"Korsgaard’s and Esbensen’s work demonstrated back in the 1970s that energy-efficient technology really does work. The construction of this building was thus an important basis for later developments in Europe and around the world," explains Dr. Wolfgang Feist, who, as Founder and Director of the Passive House Institute, will present the Pioneer Award on 20 April. "The Danish zero-energy experiment was one of thevery first of its kind and was certainly one of the most systematic. The published project findings were incorporated into Passive House research right from the start."

Passepedia/CC BY 2.0

This is actually the third Pioneer award; the other two were the Philips Experimental House in Aachen:

A super-insulated experimental house, built in 1974/75, equipped with ground heat exchangers, controlled ventilation, solar and heat pump technology and “inhabited” by a computer served as a test and calibration object for computer models, used to explore the opportunities of energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources.

Rocky Mountain Institute via Passepedia/CC BY 2.0

In 2011, The Rocky Mountain Institute won the award and honored RMI head Amory Lovins.

Amory Lovins, who is well-known for his publications about alternative energy, did not stop at the theory. He built an extremely well-insulated solar passive house in Old Snowmass in Colorado, at an altitude of 2164 metres. Tropical vegetation flourished in the winter garden and the stove was seldom used.

Fram/Public Domain

Interestingly, when you go to the Passipedia and look at the historical review, they list precedents going back to ancient China and to Nansen's Fram, (See more on Fram here) which was not only super-insulated but had wind-generated electricity in 1883.

The Tyee/Promo image

However it doesn't list the Saskatchewan Conservation House at all. This 1977 house had most of the hallmarks of a Passive House, including almost airtight construction and lots of insulation. Physicist William Shurcliff wrote about it in 1979 and is quoted by Martin Holladay:

What name should be given to this new system? Superinsulated passive? Super-save passive? Mini-need passive? Micro-load passive? I lean toward ‘micro-load passive.’ Whatever it is called, it has (I predict) a big future.

Holladay continues:

Eleven years after William Shurcliff’s landmark press release, a German physicist, Dr. Wolfgang Feist, adopted Shurcliff’s list, suggested a few further specifications, and coined a German word, Passivhaus, to describe the construction method. In a January 2008 interview, Feist acknowledged, “The building process for the first Passivhaus prototype started in 1990. At the time we knew about other similar buildings — buildings made by William Schurcliff and Harold Orr — and we relied on these ideas.”

Yet somehow it is not even acknowledged as a precedent in the Historical Review page.

Saskatchewan Conservation House Section/Promo image

The Saskatchewan Conservation House isn't the prettiest thing we have shown on TreeHugger, but it is important in the history of the Passivhaus movement. Look at that section: thick insulation all round a boxy design with few jogs, air to air heat exchangers, heat recovery on hot water, careful solar orientation and shading. It's almost indistinguishable from a Passivhaus section, shown below. Why is it being ignored?

© What's Passive about that? Passivhaus Institute

I am not sure why it is not recognized as an important precedent, but I am going to get all my Passivhaus buddies to nominate it for next year's Passive House Pioneer Award.

Tags: Green Building | passive house | Wayback Machine

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