What's in a Name? I Am Going to Use Passivhaus, Not Passive House

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CC BY 2.0. Frank Lloyd Wright did passive solar.

Most of the English-speaking world has settled on Passive House, but I am tired of being confused.

Passivhaus is the term used since 1996 by the Passivhaus Institut (PHI) in Germany to define a particular form of high-performance building with a lot of insulation and not a lot of glass. Passive Design has been around since, well, forever, and involved a lot of south-facing glass and passive solar heating. When Passivhaus came to the English-speaking world, some used Passivhaus; others translated it to Passive House.

I always preferred Passivhaus because it seemed like a distinct brand to me, and was less confusing; I first wrote about this issue almost a decade ago in a post titled Passive Design and Passive House Mean Two Different Things. By 2013 the consensus in the English speaking world was to go with Passive House; the people at Passive House + magazine explained explained their choice of title:

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.

And then, even the Passivhaus Institute translated their own name for their English website as the Passive House Institute. So I threw up my hands and went Passive House. For a while I tried to go with the Canadian branding where they pushed it together into Passivehouse.

©. EME Design via BDAV

© EME Design via BDAV

But then a few weeks ago I was writing about an Australian award-winning house called the Passive Butterfly, "renovated according to passive design principle goals." On their site they say they are "targeting Passivhaus standard." The designers wrote:

With part-Scandinavian heritage, the clients were passionate about efficient building design, and sought the highest standard of passive build they could achieve on the site ... Exacting insulation measures and passive design principles, including a heat recovery system, ensure the building’s temperature fluctuates by just 1.5 degrees Celsius for 95 per cent of the year.

So what is it? Passivhaus or passive design? I believe the latter, but I am confused. I suspect a lot of people are still confused by the difference between passive design and passive house.

So I am making a personal editorial decision: If a building is certified to the standards set by the Passivhaus Institut (PHI) then I am calling it Passivhaus. It's a good brand and stands for something specific. I know that there are PassiveHouse Canada and the North American Passive House Network and the Passive House Institute US, but I don't want to be confused anymore.