Notes From Vienna: What Can We Do to Make Passivhaus Popular?

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©. Wolfgang Feist

Regular readers will know that I am a fan of Passivhaus or Passive House, where buildings use very little energy. I was recently asked to be part of a panel at the International Passivhaus Conference in Vienna, where architect Helmut Krapmeier gave us a series of questions in advance. I had prepared these very short answers, which I share here:

There are pressing, huge challenges in the building sector; what would you prioritize to move things [like Passivhaus] forward more quickly?

credit: Elon Musk announcing solar shingles

Elon Musk announcing solar shingles/Video screen capture
Passivhaus cannot stand alone; it has to be part of a bigger package, about the way we live. Look at how Elon Musk of Tesla introduced gorgeous electric cars, pretty photovoltaic shingles and big batteries; Everybody swoons and smacks down big deposits, even though Americans don't care much about energy costs. They love the package, they aspire to the image, the status, and the idea of a bright clean future where they can still have it all in suburban America. "The future we want."

wooden house aspern

Lloyd Alter/ biking through Vienna/CC BY 2.0
Look at Vienna, with its thousands of energy efficient and Passivhaus dwellings and buildings. It is a different lifestyle model with dwellings that act as thermal rather than electrical batteries. Bikes are more efficient and healthier than cars. Mid-rise multifamily developments have the density to support organic cafes.

Vienna demonstrates a sophisticated lifestyle package of low energy Passivhaus building, walkable urban design, fabulous transit and bike infrastructure. Put it all together as an idea and it is as aspirational and desirable than anything Elon Musk is offering, and it scales.

We should not just be exporting the idea of Passivhaus, we should be exporting the idea of Vienna.

How could we increase the uptake of the Passive House Standard for new build and renovation (EnerPhit standard), what do you think is the best way to spread the idea?

CC BY 2.0. Heather

Heather/CC BY 2.0
Again, think about lifestyle. Look at Hygge, the fad out of Denmark that owns Pinterest this year. It’s all about getting cozy under blankets, wearing thick socks, lighting candles and drinking hot cider. But what is it really? It is in fact a creative response to crappy housing. One of our writers who grew up in the Canadian woods pointed out that doing these things was not about romance, it was about survival.

What Passivhaus offers is a sort of built in Hygge. It delivers this all the time; There’s no need for heavy socks. Passivhaus delivers warmth, comfort, security, quiet and health. It's all marketing; maybe we should call it Passivhygge.

What support by official institutions should and can be expected?

Skeena Passive House

© Cornerstone Architecture/ 388 Skeena, Canada's largest Passive House apartment

Look at the Vancouver model, using carrot not stick. Like most cities, Vancouver has regulations on density, height and setbacks; Going Passivhaus makes builders eligible for extra density, meaning extra units, meaning extra profit. Passivhaus pretty much pays for itself.