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Modern Passive House Designs: Are They Superior?

Passive House Modern Designs

Imagine living in a home that was comfortable, energy-efficient and always had a consistent temperature that meant you were cool in summer and warm in winter, with a price that was reasonable enough for most people to achieve.

The passive house is exactly that, making for a unique type of home designed on these principles and meeting a global standard that ensures it ticks all of those boxes.

The modern passive house is one that follows the popular construction concept developed in the 1980s but adds the new touches that ensure it meets its high original standards.

These homes are designed to be energy efficient, always comfortable for their inhabitants, self-monitoring, and with an emphasis on placing as little impact on the environment as possible.

So, what does the modern passive house look like?

At a glance, a passive house designed and built today would follow the same design principles of those in the past and should be comfortable and energy-efficient. The home must optimize things like insulation, high-performance windows, and balanced heat, making most of the best and worst parts of the climate it is in.

Although often confused with a brand name, the passive house is more of a concept, and modern homes built to this standard must meet the principles of it.

If you’re building a house or looking to make improvements to an existing one and want something affordable and efficient, the modern passive house is worth looking into.


What is a Passive House?

passive house architecture

A passive house is one that follows the building concepts put in place when the first home of its kind was developed.

The first ideas of this type of house began in the 1970s after the oil embargo of 1973 where people were looking at ways to reduce their energy output. The notion of the passive house was started, with Germany taking over its developments in the years to come, and then the US once again getting involved with their own standards set as well.

This type of building has a primary goal of being energy efficient which it achieves through an airtight envelope built around it.

Unlike other homes that might be green or eco-friendly, it also places just as much of an emphasis on being comfortable and ensures that living in one of these homes is one of the best experiences with thermal contentment while requiring very little from the occupants.

This temperature retaining envelope is created with various structures and designs, including roofs, walls, and windows, to keep the interior separate from the exterior and help to maintain a comfortable temperature. These should all be done affordably, with the hopes that everyone can somebody afford this type of building.

Some common fixtures of a passive house are high-performance windows, the maximum amount of insulation possible, ventilation systems, and specially chosen window locations.

With all of these working together, the house should have optimal air quality but also reduce the total amount of heating and cooling required, so the overall energy use is significantly less than a standard house.

How Does a Passive House Work?

passive house model

The goal of a passive house is to keep temperatures at a comfortable level inside which then reduces the inhabitant’s reliance on heating and cooling systems.

This is achieved with a specially constructed home and various parts and systems that create an enveloped around its exterior so that temperatures can’t be affected by what’s going on outside.

Today’s passive house takes elements of design that were used in its predecessors but adds further modern touches to them, thanks to new eco-technologies and advancements in the field. The goal for the modern passive house is to one day be zero energy and it is coming closer each year, but there is still a way to go before it can get there.

According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, a passive building should use up to 80 per cent less energy than the average home in heating and cooling.

As we know that most homes rely heavily on these HVAC systems which lead to a large amount of power and increased costs on our utility bills, a passive house has the potential to save a lot.

Design Principles of a Passive House

modern design of passive house

To build a passive house or have your home updated to one that meets its standards, you’ll need to ensure all of the design principles are achieved.

Although each country has its own standards, they are fairly similar to each other, intending to be both energy efficient and comfortable to live in.

There are five principles that these homes must follow, but how they are used will depend on the climate of the environment and other factors that the homeowner wants to consider.

The five building-science principles of a passive house are:

  1. The home must feature continuous insulation through the entire enveloped living space without thermal bridging. This refers to the movement of heat across an object, and it’s one of the biggest causes of energy loss in homes that leads to more reliance on HVAC systems.
  2. The building must have an airtight envelope around it that ensures the air inside stays there, and the outside air doesn’t get inside. There should be no uncontrolled air leaking out anywhere.
  3. Makes use of solar energy on the windows, employing high-performance windows that help heat the house and allow heat to be dispersed when it’s hotter outside.
  4. Has at least one form of ventilation in use that balances heat throughout the house and ensures that moisture is recovered where needed.
  5. Uses the smallest possible conditioning system to save room and energy, but still, get the benefits of this type of device.

Design and Style

modern passive house

Although there is a set of standards for building these homes, there’s no set criteria for what it should look like.

The design and style portion of a passive home can differ greatly and predominantly depends on the climate where the home is located and what specific preferences the homeowners have.

A common feature of these homes is the windows, as their ability to disperse heat or attract it is one of the main ways it achieves thermal comfort. You might find that these homes utilize larger windows than most, and rather than having the wall as the main feature on the side of a house, it might be overshadowed by a high-performance window instead.

A passive house doesn’t necessarily have to be a house either, as it can include a wide range of buildings. Apartments, offices, schools, hotels, and shopping centers can all utilize the principles that these homes are built on, and have a significant impact on how much energy is consumed in the name of heating and cooling for comfort.

Passive House vs Solar House

solar roof on house

One common misconception about this type of building is that it is a solar house.

Although the two types of homes have similarities, the passive house works more in the sense that is truly passive and requires minimal input from its occupants to be effective.

Both solar and passive houses use nature to deliver energy and maintain comfort inside, and even rely on some of the same systems and designs like ventilation and solar panels.

However, in a passive home, all of this can be maintained for you so that you’re always comfortable, and without having to lift a finger.

A solar home is a good option for those who don’t mind dealing with temperature fluctuations and those who prefer to live with their windows and doors open. For those who want the best of both worlds, it is possible to build a solar passive home, but this can be a little more complex.

The Cost of Building a Passive House

passive house requirements

One of the principles of a passive house is that these homes and buildings should be affordable.

As most people are away, building or retrofitting a home with energy-efficient technologies and systems can be expensive, so the passive house is unsurprisingly not as affordable as you would hope.

Some architects and building contracts are aiming to build passive houses for around $175 to $200 a square foot, but most are more expensive than that. To retrofit a house can be cheaper but it needs to have the right structures in place to reduce the costs of performing such a task.

The current average of these homes sees them costing around 5 – 10% more than a standard home. If you have a larger building, you may be able to cut costs more, so a family home designed to fit five or more people might only cost around 3% more than a similarly sized regular house.

As the popularity of these homes increases and the cost of eco-friendly materials and systems drops, it’s hopeful that their price will as well. The modern passive house should be in the reach of most homeowners in the next 20 years, which means a greater reduction of energy usage across the country.

Do Passive Homes Need Heating?

When designed to the passive house standard, these buildings will be able to optimize their strengths and weaknesses to keep temperatures inside relatively comfortable.

The goal is to keep temperatures at a fairly maintained level all through the year, and it’s able to achieve this with things like solar panels and high-performance windows.

However, if the temperature does reach higher peaks or drop below a comfortable level, you’re able to use a standard cooling or heating system inside the home to help. This could be fans or air conditioning, or even a heater, with the goal of being an efficient option that’s only used when necessary.

Due to the unique construction of these homes, the reliance on HVAC systems is minimal. As they were designed to maintain temperatures and keep everything sealed in, you would only need to use them on their lowest settings for them to be effective, and it would only be for short periods.

The Benefits of a Passive House

pros and conf of passive house

If you’re still unsure about whether the passive house way of living is for you, checking out the benefits might sway you further.

These are just some advantages you’ll receive from building or retrofitting your home to suit the passive house standards.

  • Reduced energy use

The biggest bonus of a passive house is the reduced reliance on energy and electricity. Having one of these specially designed homes can significantly reduce your carbon footprint and make you an eco-friendly warrior in no time.

  • Cheaper utility bills

Another bonus of reducing your energy use is that you’ll see a difference in your utility bills. Your use of electricity will be way down which will be reflected in real cash savings, effectively making the house pay for itself.

  • Quiet and calm living

Having the envelope around your house that passive house design offers means you’ll cut out a lot of noise from the outside. With the sealed windows and doors, you won’t hear traffic, noisy neighbors, or barking dogs, giving you your own private retreat.

  • Comfort

The key goal of the passive house is to ensure thermal consistency. This can have major benefits for the people inside of it like feeling safe, happy, and comfortable at all times.

  • Fewer allergic reactions

One of the key components of a passive house is its stellar ventilation system. This ability to keep allergens at an all-time low is good news for people who suffer from allergic reactions to things like dust and pet dander.

  • Less cleaning

Another bonus of the intense ventilation system installed in a passive house, you’ll find yourself cleaning less as well. This is due to a reduced amount of dust, so there’s not much vacuuming or dusting to do.

  • A home for the future

As more and more people are doing their part to install eco-friendly and energy-efficient systems at home, the passive house is already miles ahead. Building one of these homes or having your existing house retrofitted to meet the standards means you’re already where everyone plans to be in the future.

The Passive House Institute US

passive house certified

Passive House Institute of PHIUS+ is the biggest passive building certification in the United States.

The institute is in charge of setting standards for building, as well as providing quality assurance for homes that are in the process of being built or will be constructed in the future.

PHIUS+ is in charge of certifying passive house builds, and they have a range of certified professionals working for them. Contactors can undertake courses for certification, enabling them to work with these homes in the future and understand the high standard and principles to which they must be built.

Just like the Passive House Institute US, most other countries have their own governing body to regulate these types of buildings. They all operate on a similar set of practices and principles, which helps to keep passive house design consistent across the world.

Related Questions

The modern passive house is an amazing way to reduce your carbon footprint and make for a comfortable living situation, provided you get it right.

With a goal to make this an affordable way of living for everyone, it’s hopeful to think that more of these homes will become commonplace in the future. If you have more questions about sustainable living, check out the answers to some FAQs to get you started.

Can You Open The Doors of a Passive House?

doors on passive house

Although the design principles of a passive house mean it’s sealed tight in an envelope, that doesn’t mean the doors and windows can’t be opened.

These homes should be suited to the individual occupants and if you feel comfortable having the doors and windows open, you can do so, and the house will adjust to meet these changes.

Do Passive House Buildings Get Mold?

Many people assume that passive house buildings have a build-up of moisture which can lead to mold and mildew, but this isn’t true.

These homes are designed with serious ventilation systems that keep fresh air running through them and have humidity levels controlled, it’s rare for them to grow mold.

Are Passive Houses Healthy?

A passive house is a healthy option for someone looking to build a new home. These houses feature good ventilation, a quiet and comfortable place to live, and access to natural sunlight.

They are also considered healthier for the environment as they use minimal energy to operate and don’t rely on standard heating and cooling systems to maintain temperatures.

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