In North America, people think Passive Houses are houses, thanks in no small part to the dopey name. In fact, it is a bad translation of Passivhaus, where the haus actually means building. In Europe, where Passivhaus has been around longer and got a lot more traction, there are all kinds of buildings that are Passivhaus; it is fundamentally nothing more than a standard for building energy consumption.
In fact, when Tomás O’Leary of the Passive House Academy sent me information on a three-day whirlwind tour of Passivhaus buildings in Brussels, Belgium I was shocked at the number and size of them. It has made a serious difference in the city's energy consumption, as this graph shows population and employment going up, while energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are going seriously down.
Belgium appears to be a hotbed of Passivhaus; there are hundreds of them, totalling over 5.4 million square feet, and as of this year every new building in Brussels has to be built to passivhaus standards. Just a few of the links that Tomás sent me show some amazing buildings that are going to be on the tour:
This is a conversion of a 1930s vintage office building into condos by MDW Architecture that "represents a highly relevant case study for the US building stock."
European Foundation House is a renovation of a 1980s vintage office building by Greenarch;
Mixed New Build and retrofit Passive House Apartment Building by A2M;
Renovation and Part-New Construction of Former Brewery to Offices and Hotel by Architects l'Escaut ;
And this extraordinary "incubator for green businesses and production shops for sustainable materials and technologies" designed by Architectes Associés.
It really demonstrates that when a city and a country get serious about sustainability, things can happen fast and make a real difference. It also shows that we should get over our misconceptions about passive house being too hard or too expensive; the whole city is doing it. See for yourself in three days starting May 17.