The Heinrich Team is a sponsor of Passive House California and an active supporter of Passive House protocols as the way to build homes and other buildings going forward. This blog series is at their request, and is intended to enable their clients and friends to make informed decisions about the comfort, health, energy efficiency, and environmental impact of their homes.
This first blog provides an introduction to Passive House. Future blogs in the series will address the protocols, priorities, building practices, and systems that enable the benefits. I am grateful to the Heinrich Team for the opportunity to share this critically important information.
Intelligent and Purposeful Choices
Facts about Passive House
- Recognized as the most aggressive energy efficiency standard for the built environment.
“This is not just a scientific experiment. This is the solution…”
Amory Lovins, Co Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Rocky Mountain Institute, upon visiting and reviewing the energy efficiency performance of the first Passive House certified building, located in Darmstadt Germany, in 1995.
- Certification is based on measured and modeled performance rather than point accumulation or checklists.
- Identified by the United Nations, in their 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Gap Report, as an appropriate set of protocols for new buildings worldwide to address the climate crisis. There are already over 85,000 Passive House buildings around the world.
“The writing on the wall is that Passive standards are the future of the building industry, and more and more cities are looking for ways to support reaching those standards.”
From a report by EMU Systems, January 22, 2020.
- Incorporates, but is much more than, Passive Solar design. Passive solar design evolved in the mid 20th century and involves siting, shading, daylighting, use of thermal mass to store heat, and other passive measures to lower the energy required for heating and cooling. Passive House protocols take advantage of these passive solar strategies and tactics, and then integrate what we have learned from building science to further reduce the operational energy requirement of buildings. Today, by employing Passive House protocols and solutions we can lower energy use by + 70%.
- Passive House is not just for individual residences. Passive House levels of performance can be achieved with nearly all building types, from tiny homes to skyscrapers, and deliver extreme energy efficiency, comfort, health, and durability.
“Significant and Permanent Impacts”
“ … ensure that all new structures achieve significant and permanent energy reductions.”
Bloomberg Environment and Energy Report – INSIGHT: Net Zero Passive Houses Are Answer to Housing Energy Efficiency, January 30, 2020
Passive – it’s in the name: Describes solutions that deliver desired performance naturally, as a function of the design, and continue to deliver that performance over time with little or no intervention other than normal maintenance.
Design and build a racecar with a wing that increases downward pressure on the car and increase road traction, without adding weight.
The wing delivers that performance automatically, over time, every time, without intervention.
Paint the lines for reverse diagonal parking so that drivers back into the spaces, occupants are directed to the back of the car for the bicycles, picnic baskets, sports gear, etc.
You dramatically reduce the number of personal injuries day after day and year after year.
Note that it does not cost any more to paint the lines in the reverse direction. Many Passive House building practices are cost neutral or reduce costs.
If you want access to hot coffee all day you can use a quality thermos and avoid the energy required to keep the pot hot, and also avoid, occasionally burning the coffee residue to a crisp.
People generally prefer to keep their homes at a desired temperature. Passive House being nearly airtight and well insulated can do so with far less energy required to maintain the desired temperature.
- Passive House has been proven but adoption has been slow in the US: Passive House has been an accepted building standard since the 1990s. There are over 85,000 Passive House structures around the world that are consistently delivering the expected energy performance. In recent years, awareness of climate change has accelerated the adoption of Passive House across North America.
- Proof of concept (locally) is important: Consider the impact of the successful roundabout at Hwy 1 and Hwy 68
Roundabouts are a proven way to design intersections around the world, but many of my friends and acquaintances were skeptical about building one to address the complicated traffic patterns at this intersection. Now that it is completed and everyone is enjoying the improved “performance” of the roundabout in comparison to the multi-light and stop sign layout that it replaced.
People are having the same “AHA” moment when they experience the environment inside a Passive House.
The Basics – What you do
- Retain craftsmanship, modify priorities: Building a Passive House does not involve much change from normal, quality construction practices and craftsmanship. What changes are the priorities, so that you create a building envelope that is better insulated, significantly more airtight, and minimal thermal bridges between the inside and outside. It requires some training for the crews and supervisors and some more sophisticated air sealing products, but the building process is essentially the same… just targeting some measurable outcomes that were not included in conventional construction.
- Design and build a high performing envelope: A Passive House envelope is nearly airtight (up to 95% less leakage than typical new construction), has better insulation (correctly installed, which is not a given), negligible thermal bridges, windows with appropriate insulation and solar heat gain properties.
- Install mechanical systems that match your performance goals: Since the envelope is nearly airtight, you will want a heat recovery ventilation system to provide continuous fresh, and filtered air. Because your envelope will not be constantly leaking the air that has been heated or cooled to your desired temperature, your heating and/or air conditioning loads will be a fraction of a code built home. Your heating and cooling system or systems will be substantially smaller.
Note: I strongly recommend the use of electric heat pumps for heating, air conditioning (one unit does both), and for water heating. Heat pumps move heat rather than create heat and are therefore 3 to 4 times as efficient as those that use gas or electric resistance.
The Basics – Benefits you enjoy
- A Passive House building will operate on around 70% less energy than a similar building built to code: This means that you can achieve Net Zero with about one third of the solar panels. If you add a battery back up system, it can be one-third the size and achieve the same resilience, or if you choose to use the same size battery back up system, it will extend your resilience by a factor of 3.
- Constant desired temperature: Passive Houses, because they are very slow to change temperature (a thermal battery) are generally within a degree or two upstairs and down and do not have any cold or warm spots. This constant temperature, and the quiet from not having sound leaks in the envelope, provide a high level of comfort. One couple described the difference as akin to the difference in viewing the night sky from the mountains where there is little ambient light.
- Dramatically fewer airborne allergens and pollutants: The airtight envelope and continuous fresh and filtered air from the balanced ventilation eliminate up to 95% of the airborne particles typically found in homes. In fact, there is so little dust that when you look at a beam of sunlight streaming through the window, you don’t see any of the usual dust motes floating around, and there is little reason to dust regularly. Most important however are the health benefits. Many passive house residents do not take their asthma medications or use inhalers when at home. When you analyze the financial impacts of living in a Passive House building, lower medical costs are a clearly measurable factor for consideration.
- Doing the right thing for family and planet: We talked about physical comfort (temperature, quiet, and fresh air) but there is also the emotional comfort of knowing that you are living in, and providing for your loved ones, an home that is healthy for them and environmentally responsible for future generations.
- And you can open windows if you like: Sometimes people misunderstand that the much higher performance you can achieve in an airtight home means that you should not open the windows. The truth is that open windows are fine when it is not too hot, too cold, or too windy, or there is too much pollen in the air, or there is smoke from wildfires. Many who live in Passive House homes find that they seldom open the windows because it is always comfortable and the desired temperature. People generally choose to open windows when they notice that they are not completely comfortable inside. With a Passive House that is rarely necessary, but perfectly acceptable as long as the weather allows, and the outside air is not unhealthy.
Some Final Words
- Future blogs will provide more specific information on Passive House protocols, building practices and products, and benefits. In the meantime, feel free to contact me through the Heinrich Team or directly Jay@concomt.com with questions or issues you would like to discuss.
- And a final quote…
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”
Do better for yourself, your family, and the planet. After reading the information in this blog you know better about the built environment. Please support Passive House design and construction of the built environment.