What is a Passive House?

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(Last Updated On: May 26, 2022)

When you think of a passive house, the first aspect that might come to mind is that you will save money on heating and cooling costs.  But, what is a passive house?

Together with commercial building sectors, residential homes account for about 40% of the total energy consumption in the United States. Starting from an energy-efficient house concept, many individuals in New York and other states are considering this option.

Passive homes use much less energy, but a passive house is so much more than a smaller energy bill.

First of all, a passive house is a construction concept that incorporates a building standard relying on a combination of methods to achieve a residence that dramatically reduces heating and cooling demands.

A passive house is comfortable, energy efficient and eco-friendly. It is a way to reduce your dependence on fossil fuels without ever sacrificing your comfort. 

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What is a Passive House? An Overview

So just how does a passive house work? If you want a short and sweet explanation, take a look at this YouTube video that does a fine job of giving you an overview of what a Passive House Is. Explained in 90 Seconds.

Whether residential or commercial, passive buildings are constructed using a set of design principles to attain a quantifiable level of energy efficiency that also allows for a measurable comfort level.

A passive building is designed and built with these five building-science principles:

  • Uses continuous insulation throughout the entire envelope of the building without any thermal bridging
  • The building envelope is airtight and prevents infiltration of outside air and loss of conditioned air.
  • Double or triple-pane windows are used throughout, along with high-performance doors. Solar gain uses the sun’s energy for heat and minimizes overheating during the cooling season.
  • Employs a form of balanced heat and moisture recovery ventilation
  • Uses a minimal space conditioning system.

The passive design considers the heat emissions from appliances and the home’s occupants to keep the home at a comfortable and consistent indoor temperature throughout both heating and cooling season. Built correctly, a passive home will offer tremendous long-term benefits in addition to energy efficiency.

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How Does A Passive House Work?

To be considered a passive home, the construction must meet strict standards so that the building will perform efficiently. It includes using solar panels to cut down electricity bills and low-carbon tech to achieve a more sustainable home.

  1. Airtight Construction

An airtight construction means that there is a draft-free envelope around the building. This type of construction does not have gaps that allow air to leak in or out of the building. 

Insulation helps to keep a warm building stay warm and a cool building to stay cool. When a home has insulation on the outside of the thermal mass, the heat stored within the mass can keep the inner temperature of the building warm.

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  1. Heavy Insulation

With a passive house, insulation is used in the building’s design to work together with thermal mass. Thermal mass is a dense material that can store and radiate heat.

  1. No Thermal Bridges

When poorly insulated material allows a pathway for heat flow across a thermal barrier, thermal bridging occurs. Thermal bridging interrupts the insulation layer with a material that conducts heat and, therefore, provides a direct line for thermal energy transfer across the building envelope. In a passive design, care is taken so that there are no thermal bridges.

  1. Passive Heating Technology

Passive heating systems capture sunlight within the building’s materials. That heat is then released when heat from the sun is absent, at night, for example. 

South-facing glass and thermal mass are necessary for the passive design to absorb, store and then distribute heat. This thermal mass can be concrete, brick, stone, tile, or other building materials.

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  1. Passive Solar Gains

The orientation of the house is a crucial concept in maximizing solar gain in a passive house. To maximize solar gain, the house should be orientated so that the long facade of the house faces south. 

This side of the passive house should have the most significant amount of glazing, and the glazing on the north side of the house should be kept to a minimum. 

Solar gain is a fundamental principle of passive design, which utilizes the sun’s energy to create a comfortable internal environment. If situated correctly, the sun’s energy can provide most of the light and heat needed in a passive house.

  1. Proper ventilation

A system of fans, vents, ducting, and a heat exchanger circulates the air through the home. A heat exchanger uses the latent heat already present in the air and transfers this energy to cooler incoming air with a passive house. 

Typically, the heat exchanger is mounted in the attic of the house. Warm and cold air pass each other through a system of small pipes in the heat exchanger but do not mix. This system will operate continuously (and quietly) to extract moist, stale air and supply fresh air to all living spaces in the passive house.

The Benefits of Having A Low-Energy House

Lower energy costs are one of the first advantages a person thinks of regarding a passive house, but it is not the only one. There are other benefits to a passive house, and we have listed a few below.

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  1. You Can Enjoy A Cozier And More Comfortable Home

Passive houses focus on comfort that is inextricably linked to the performance of the building. So, a passive house does not deliver comfort in spite of energy efficiency; it provides comfort because of energy efficiency.

  1. You Can Build A High-Quality House

To be an effective and efficient building, a passive house needs to be constructed out of high-quality materials. This attention to detail and use of high-quality, eco-friendly materials ensure that the house is built for longevity and sustainability. A passive house must meet specific criteria for building certification and planning execution.

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  1. Cut down your heating expenses by 90%

One of the biggest and best benefits of a passive home is the energy savings you will enjoy. Heating and cooling costs continue to rise, and we have even seen some shortages in natural gas in recent years. With a passive home, you can see savings of up to 90% over a conventionally built house.

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  1. Help The Environment And Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

This perk of a passive house design is my favorite! A passive home is so energy efficient that they don’t require standard heating systems. This decreases your dependence on fossil fuels and reduces carbon emissions. 

In a standard-built home, 60 to 70% of the energy use goes towards heating and cooling. A passive house produces as much energy as it consumes while providing you with comfortable indoor temperatures year-round.

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Final Thoughts

Lower energy costs are certainly an attractive feature of a passive house, but it is not the only consideration. You can significantly lower your dependence on outside energy sources and reduce your carbon footprint, too. 

And a passive house is built of quality materials that will stand the test of time and increase the value of your passive home.

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