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Passive Homes

There has been an upward trend in sustainable homes, such as tiny houses, homes built with natural materials, zero energy homes, and passive homes. The way the passive house is constructed regulates the internal temperature of the house without using additional heating or air conditioning. This infographic compares a passive house vs a traditionally built house.

The first passive homes were built in Darmstadt, Germany in 1990. The Kranichstein Passive House design was originated by Professor Bo Adamson of Lund University, Sweden and Dr. Wolfgang Feist from The Institute of Housing and the Environment in Germany. The four terraced row houses used just 10% of the common energy demand of a home at that time. In the United States, the first passive house was built in Urbana, Illinois in 2003, with a construction cost of $94 per square foot to build. Now in the United States, there are approximately 16 multifamily buildings, 111 single-family homes, one school and seven commercial buildings. In Philadelphia Magazine, architect James Pedranti says,

We’re 15 to 20 years behind what they’ve been doing in Europe to improve building quality. Belgium has adopted passive house [building] standards nationwide, and several cities have adopted this approach as well. In Europe, 30,000 to 50,000 buildings, single-family, multifamily and commercial, have been built this way. In North America, we have 300 to 500 buildings built this way.

Wicker Paradise/2013/flickr

Wicker Paradise/2013/flickr

The Passive House Institute US sets forth the guiding principles of passive building:

  • Employs continuous insulation throughout its entire envelope without any thermal bridging.
  • The building envelope is extremely airtight, preventing infiltration of outside air and loss of conditioned air.
  •  Employs high-performance windows (typically triple-paned) and doors.
  • Uses some form of balanced heat- and moisture-recovery ventilation and a minimal space conditioning system.
  • Solar gain is managed to exploit the sun’s energy for heating purposes in the heating season and to minimize overheating during the cooling season.

So you want a build a Passive House for yourself? The first step should be to find a Passive House Consultant through PassiveHouse.com. According to Ken Levenson of NY Passive House, it is much easier to incorporate the Passive House elements in the design process for a new house, rather than retrofit an existing home.

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