Passive House Design: Changing the Future of New Home Construction

Total energy use in existing buildings accounted for 40% of total U.S. energy use in 2020 — 22% residential buildings and 18% commercial buildings. If you are considering building a new home, building it to Passive House standards may be the greatest opportunity you have to reduce your carbon footprint and do your part to move towards sustainable and equitable energy use for the home. planet.

Passive house design is the world’s leading energy efficiency building standard, reducing energy consumption by over 70% and reducing the carbon footprint of homes by over 60%. Think of the impact we could have if all new homes were built using passive house design. This is an opportunity to change the way we build: saving energy, money and the planet.

Passive House Design Principles

The principles of passive house design are simple: build a super-efficient building envelope (the skin of the house) so that you only need a fraction of the heating and cooling energy. An efficiently designed building envelope reduces the energy needed to heat or cool the house by 80-90%.

Once heating and cooling energy loads are significantly reduced, new technologies – such as heat pumps and mechanical ventilation – are installed to reduce the energy needed for hot water and provide cool air constant for better air quality.

This diagram illustrates the principles of the passive house. Copyright Passive Design Solutions

Although passive house principles maximize free heat from the sun, solar heat is not essential to its energy efficiency. The cornerstones of a passive house include super insulation, airtightness and the elimination of thermal bridges (cold spots), high quality windows and doors and super efficient mechanical systems.

Mechanical ventilation in a passive house removes air pollutants and provides constant fresh air, resulting in healthy indoor air quality. The thick levels of insulation also make the house incredibly quiet inside, blocking out outside noise, which is especially appreciated during storms. As storm activity increases in intensity and frequency, a passive house is much more resilient and will maintain comfortable temperatures without electricity for several days.

Passive house design takes care of building science, meaning there is no risk of moisture buildup that leads to mold and rot. Finally, with the addition of a small number of solar panels, a passive house can become a net-zero house, generating as much energy as it uses annually. This further reduces the carbon footprint and provides financial security with ever rising energy costs.

Why wouldn’t everyone build a passive house?

People considering building a new home have common questions about Passive Houses. Now, with over 17 years of construction experience, the passive house design movement in North America has the answers.

  • Will it cost too much?
    Passive houses can cost 5-15% more than a conventional house to build. But with thoughtful execution, the construction investment can be comparable to building a standard house.
  • Will it look strange?
    Although various local climates and building codes influence the cost of upgrading to a Passive House, it can certainly be designed in any style to suit any neighborhood.
  • Who can build it?
    Locally available materials well known to craftsmen can be put together in different ways to achieve the high performance of the passive house. Therefore, any experienced contractor can build a passive house.

Passive House Comfort Benefits

The main goals of the passive house design movement are to drastically reduce energy consumption and minimize the carbon footprint. But some other surprising design benefits may be even more important to homeowners.

Passive house design is changing the way we think about residential architecture. It works with nature, using the sun to heat the house and provide natural light.

deep window sills in the passive house
Deep window sills are an added benefit of thick insulation in passive house design. Photo by David Stewart Media.

It captures the prevailing winds to cool the house in summer. This solid design approach protects living spaces from cold winter winds. Working in harmony with the natural environment, passive house design results in a healthier, warmer, brighter and more comfortable home.

While comfort is hard to articulate, most Passive House owners say comfort is what they love most about living in their home. After all, our homes are a big part of the fabric of our well-being. Home should be an oasis of peace, security and stability.

passive house in Nova Scotia, Canada
Interior of a passive house in Nova Scotia, Canada. Photo by Elemental Photography

With all of these benefits, it’s easy to see why the passive house design movement is growing exponentially in North America, and why many cities and regions are now offering homeowner incentives and rebates to build this way.

About the Author

Natalie Leonard is a Certified Passive House Consultant and Certified Passive House Builder. As an engineer and president of Passive Design Solutions, she has completed over 100 net-zero ready passive house projects. Committed to reducing the noticeable carbon footprint of the housing industry, the team recently launched a range of ready-to-build passive house design plans available online to the general public.

Feature image: An off-grid passive house in Ontario, Canada. Photo by David Stewart Media. Originally published on October 31, 2019, this article was updated in January 2022.