11 great reasons why Passive House is such a great green building standard

Orient Artist Studio/ Ryall Porter Sheridan
© Orient Artist Studio/ Ryall Porter Sheridan

The Passive House is not perfect. It has a terrible, contradictory name. The internal politics in North America are appalling. Some people think it isn't cost effective. I think it disproportionately favours bigger houses. Really, why would anyone use it?

Perhaps, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it is the worst possible system, except for all the others. Over at NYPH, (New York Passive House) they claim that "Passive House buildings affordably and predictably provide the most resilient, comfortable and healthy interior environments." They list 11 reasons why you should build Passive House. A few of my favourites:

Energy Box is an earthquake-proof passive house built of cross-laminated timber
1. It fundamentally addresses the climate crisis imperative. To mitigate the worst effects of climate change we are required to decarbonize our economies while meeting the demands of global development. Passive House does this by providing the same low energy budget to both the rich and the poor. With Passive House we can slash energy demand and maintain services in the developed world, and also build modern services in a low-energy manner in the developing world.

And indeed, it means that everyone benefits from low heating and cooling costs, rich or poor in a big or little space.

A Passivhaus triplex is built on a budget

5. It is affordable in both construction and occupancy. The methodology results in only an added overall construction cost premium of approximately 5% to 10% because the construction costs for high performance elements are substantially offset by a reduction in heating and cooling systems sizing. Typically the first Passive House projects by architects, builders and consultants may have a higher cost premium due to the learning curve and lack of optimization, but with subsequent projects and better optimization, the cost premium can progressively shrink to 5% or less and even go negative.

There are many who will argue this, comparing Passive House to the traditional stick builder suburban standard, which isn't fair, nobody can build at those prices. But compared to a one-off custom building, it is probably true.

This Passivhaus ain't no house, it's a 20 storey office building

8. It enables storm resilience. In the coldest weather, without power, a Passive House can achieve a safe interior temperature equilibrium of approximately 55 degrees Fahrenheit indefinitely. In the hottest weather, if overnight passive cooling is available, it is also possible to maintain safe indoor temperatures for an extended period without power.

This has become one of its great virtues over the last few years, as unpredictable weather makes resilience an important design criterion. These things are like thermos bottles, keeping the place warm long after the source of heat is gone.

exterior after© Doug McDonald

Historic modern house renovated to Passivhaus standard

9. It enables nearly zero energy buildings. Building specific renewable energy production can be complicated and expensive – with space requirements often making it prohibitive. With a building’s energy demand minimized with Passive House, renewable requirements become far smaller, more affordable and achievable.

These houses sip so little energy that this is almost just a cherry on top, but it doesn't take a very big solar panel to generate all the electricity a passive house needs.

11. It locks in energy savings for future generations. Unlike renewable energy production or energy saving machinery that requires active maintenance and replacement, Passive House emphasizes things like insulation, airtightness and external shading that will save energy today, tomorrow and everyday into the future without significant maintenance or replacement costs.

You don't need a lot of green gizmos for a passive house. This is important, and the reason I think it is a better standard than, say, Net Zero, which is green gizmo intensive.

Read them all at NYPH. It is a pretty convincing argument that every building should be a Passive House.

11 great reasons why Passive House is such a great green building standard
If the Passive House (or Passivhaus) standard was the building code standard, our houses would use a lot less energy and would be a lot more reslient.

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