Saturday, September 19, 2009

What is Passive House?

A lot of people ask me what makes our house "green," so I thought I'd share a little more information about the type of house we're building. We are seeking Passive House certification, and if we earn it, we could be the first house in Oregon to do so. In fact, there are currently no Passive House certified homes on the West Coast, although our builders tells us that will be changing soon.

Passive House is a very stringent performance/construction standard that has become more popular in Europe and is more recently starting to catch on in the U.S. While many green technologies revolve around renewable energy sources (solar panels, etc.), Passive House focuses on cutting back dramatically on energy consumption. Here's a brief paragraph from the Passive House Institute US website:

"A Passive House is a very well-insulated, virtually air-tight building that is primarily heated by passive solar gain and by internal gains from people, electrical equipment, etc. Energy losses are minimized. Any remaining heat demand is provided by an extremely small source. Avoidance of heat gain through shading and window orientation also helps to limit any cooling load, which is similarly minimized. An energy recovery ventilator provides a constant, balanced fresh air supply. The result is an impressive system that not only saves up to 90% of space heating costs, but also provides a uniquely terrific indoor air quality."

You have heard Stuart talk about our 12-inch-thick walls and our quadruple-paned windows -- we have super thick, super well-insulated walls and windows for this purpose of helping our home be more air tight, and preventing energy loss. As a result, we should have extremely low energy bills because we will not have to use much energy to heat the house.

Also, note that our house will partly be heated by people. So when we have parties, our guests' body heat will help heat the house. We plan to have lots of parties during winter. :-)

I found a really cool graphic on the New York Times website that describes a Passive House. Our windows will be a little better than what is described in the graphic, but it gives you a good idea of what we're doing:

The reason I am so excited about using this technology is that it focuses more on conservation, on not using as much energy in the first place, instead of just adding solar panels and keeping my energy use the same. I'm still learning about Passive House, so hopefully I'm describing all of this accurately -- I'm sure our builders will let me know if I'm not. :-)


  1. Sarah and Stuart,

    I loved this article. This was the first time I had heard of a "Passive House." I wonder if this type of house could work down here in the South with all of our heat and humidity? Do you know? I guess we'd probably have to have solar panels to run our air conditioning.

    Hope you and Stuart are doing well and staying sane as you build your house. Thank you again for the beautiful wedding gifts. Gino and I love them and are excited about the big day. I'll be sure to share pictures with you on Facebook. Tell Stuart I said hello. Hope all is well at Willamette.

    Love and hugs. Miss you guys!

  2. Crystal,
    I am by no means an expert, but I'm sure a Passive House would work great in your environment. You would still need an air conditioner (most likely a heat pump), but it would MUCH smaller than what you would normally get (and it would hardly ever need to run). The humidity can be controlled by the ventilation system. Solar panels are very expensive, even with tax breaks. For the same amount of money, you can make your house more efficient and save more energy than the solar creates.