Passive Houses: Maximizing Comfort While Reducing Environmental Impact
by: Preston Guyton (guest blogger)

Homes that reduce energy bills and cut carbon emissions? Sounds like something from a futuristic television show or a homeowner’s incredible dream. However, with the introduction of a ‘new and innovative’ kind of home known as a passive house, residents can now enjoy maximum comfort while knowing they are reducing their environmental impact, too. This concept isn’t new though, as it’s been popular in Europe and Asian countries for years but only made its introduction amid the multi-family passive housing market in 2012 in Brooklyn, NY. This green building trend is for everyone and is actually a much simpler retrofit than one might think.

What Is a Passive House?

In short, passive houses are designed for maximum energy efficiency, thus reducing energy expenditures like heating and cooling. While passively doing ‘nothing’ these homes are actually working very hard to create comfort amid the home with minimal owner or resource intervention. Both single family dwellings and multi-unit properties must meet specific best practices and standards to qualify as a passive home, and these rigorous details to design are what make these units so appealing as a part of the rise in the green building industry.

Exactly How Do Passive Houses Work?

Some experts describe the methodology of passive house construction similar to that of building a thermos—but one with superior ventilation. Sounds again a bit futuristic, but thermal scans and other testing of passive houses show that this is indeed an adequate description. This is because these homes are sealed tight from outside temperatures, yet maintain stable indoor temps with high air quality. The basics to meet passive house standards during construction or a retrofit typically include:

  • Air-Tight Design
  • Continuous Insulation
  • Triple-Paned Windows
  • Air Quality Control System Implementations
  • Elimination of Thermal Bridging Issues

Thermal bridging is a phenomenon that happens when temperatures of one material transfer through their conjoining areas. Examples include multi-unit complexes that connect and those that include multiple stories with steel support beams running beneath flooring that can alter an entire home’s temperatures during extreme climates. By sealing off the home and making it air tight, air temps are more stable simply by default, even when sitting next to windows on a cool day. One can take their home a step further by including the use of solar panels, making their home a solar passive home, but this is not required to meet basic passive home standards.

The Benefits of Passive Houses

Energy efficiency is the number one benefit to homeowners, particularly those who are budget and environmentally conscious. While the savings can be tremendous, it’s important to note that there’s no specific statistics that indicate savings specifics. This is because of the looming question, “What type of house do you compare a passive house to for such statistics?” There’s actually some hyping a singular study stating that savings of up to 90% have been shown. Yet, this simply measures an air-tight passive house with an older home in Germany with no implementations in place, making it an unfair assessment to cite.

Passive homes are designed to continually circulate and filter air, helping stabilize temperatures and ensuring high air quality at all times. Owners enjoy the elimination of any type of fumes during projects, staleness of the air after being absent for a while and having greater control of indoor temperatures with minimal HVAC use. Overall, there’s a number of reasons to consider investing in a passive home retrofit or having a home builder design one with your needs in mind. Get in touch with a contractor near you to learn more today.