What is Passive House?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Passive house is a strict standard for energy efficiency in home construction to allow a house to meet most of its heating and cooling needs passively. The passive house movement has its origins in Germany and Scandinavia, and the bulk of homes built to this standard are found in this region of the world. Other countries have smaller movements of their own to promote this approach to structural design, and standalone specimens can be seen all over the world.

The origins of the passive house come from Germany, as well as Scandinavia.
The origins of the passive house come from Germany, as well as Scandinavia.

In a passive house, builders install substantial insulation in walls, floors, and ceilings, using double or triple paned windows as well. The home also has an excellent vapor barrier and is built to be as air tight as possible. The end result is a home with an extremely stable internal temperature, with minimal buildups of moisture. Passive houses have a ventilation system to promote airflow and keep the air feeling fresh, whether the house is closed for winter or opened in favorable weather.

The house relies on passive systems like insulation, windows facing the sun, tiles to trap heat, and so forth to control the temperature. A passive house also has a small supplemental heating and cooling system for the users to activate when the house is no longer capable of meeting climate control needs, as in very cold weather where even thick insulation may not keep out the cold. In regions where there is an official passive house building standard, the standard will indicate how much energy a house can use for heating and cooling every year and still meet the standard.

This energy conservation technique cuts down on energy costs radically. Building a passive house tends to be more expensive because of the increased insulation needs, but the house pays for itself in the long term with the low costs for climate control. In addition, the design standard does not have any aesthetic requirements, allowing architects to design homes in a variety of styles, as long as they meet the passive house standard. This can include ultramodern designs as well as more traditional design configurations.

In regions with passive house building organizations, it is sometimes possible to take tours of regional homes to learn more about the design standard and see some examples in action. These tours can also provide opportunities to meet contractors, architects, decorators, and other people with experience who can help design and build a home that will meet the needs of the end user.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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