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Home > Feature Articles > Sustainable Development Best Practices for Community Sustainability

Passive House for Simpler Energy Solutions

"Passive House" is used for an internationally established building standard with very low energy consumption, which has been proven in practice.

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Buildings have become less efficient over the decades as they have become larger, as families all leave the house during the day to pursue outside activities, and as natural light and ventilation are minimized in favor of central air conditioning and electrical appliances. But some designers are learning from past efficiencies and new technologies that optimize natural energy resources for what we call in the US, a net zero energy house design.

Learning from German Energy Efficiency Practitioners

The term "Passive House" is used for an internationally established building standard with very low energy consumption, which has been proven in practice. The Passive House standard is comfortable, sustainable and economically attractive. Independently of the climate and functionality, the Passive House Concept is defined as follows:

A Passive House is a building in which thermal comfort [EN ISO 7730] can be guaranteed by post-heating or postcooling the fresh-air mass flow required for a good indoor air quality. [Feist 2007]

Site planning for a Passive House

Locating a house requires as much optimization as the building techniques themselves.
  • How suitable is the site for a passive house
  • Does the site have access and utilities connections?
  • Is planning permission for a passive house likely?
  • Is a compact building shape possible? Terraced houses or larger blocks are an advantage.
  • Is a southerly orientation (±30°) and large south-facing window areas possible?
  • Consider shading factors preventing the use of solar gains - any trees with conservation orders?

Pre-planning a Passive House

Compact buildings make it possible to extend existing buildings to result in fewer external walls. Orientation of the building with south-facing windows provide solar gains, while east/north/west facing windows provide for sufficient light, but are optimized with small glazing surfaces no larger than necessary.

Winter shading from garden walls, vegetation, balconies, roof overhangs and outbuildings would affect optimized energy absorption, so they should be carefully planned to reduce cool shade on the house's exterior.

A simple building envelope shape, that avoids steps in walls, dormer windows, etc. helps define the thermal (heated) envelope and the airtight layer.

Floor plans can make installation zone(s) compact and concentrated, by placing bathrooms above or next to kitchens, etc.. The routing of, and space for, ventilation ducts can be optimized for savings.

Separate a cold basement if present and make it airtight with no cold bridges.

Planning for energy use is as important as planning for occupancy and human use in these days of increasing energy costs and realization that natural resources must be optimized to prevent overall costs and impact on the working environment.


Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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