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Green Building Blog

Passivhaus Homes are Extremely Tight and Energy-Efficient

The stringent construction standard — also called Passive House — can be used for new homes as well as for deep energy retrofits of leaky old houses

Image 1 of 2
A model for better building. This 1,500-sq.-ft. three-bedroom house in Belfast, Maine was built to the Passivhaus standard and serves as a prototype for the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage. Maine's first certified Passive House also houses the offices of G*O Logic, a design-build company.
Image Credit: G*O Logic
A model for better building. This 1,500-sq.-ft. three-bedroom house in Belfast, Maine was built to the Passivhaus standard and serves as a prototype for the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage. Maine's first certified Passive House also houses the offices of G*O Logic, a design-build company.
Image Credit: G*O Logic Small homes have lower heating bills. This 1,200-square-foot building in Urbana, Illinois was the first single-family home in the U.S. to be certified as a Passivhaus. I-Joist balloon framing leaves plenty of room for the thick insulation to come. Completed in 2004, the house was designed by German-born architect Katrin Klingenberg. Klingenberg later went on to found the Passive House Institute U.S.
Image Credit: Katrin Klingenberg

UPDATED May 16, 2014: More links added to news stories, blogs, and products.

The Passivhaus standard is probably the most stringent available standard for energy-efficient buildings. Passivhaus buildings have to meet a strict airtightness standard (0.6 air changes per hour at 50 Pascals), so they tend to be much tighter than homes that meet Energy Star or LEED for Homes requirements.

The standard was devised in the 1990s by Dr. Wolfgang Feist, a German physicist inspired by superinsulated houses built in Canada and the U.S. during the late 1970s. Thousands of superinsulated buildings in many countries — including a few dozen in the U.S. and Canada — have been certified as meeting the Passivhaus standard.

Passive House on GBA

GreenBuildingAdvisor includes a wide array of articles and other resources for those interested in learning more about the Passivhaus standard.

In the Green Primer:

Can Houses be “Too Insulated” or “Too Tight”?

In Code Green:

Tight Houses: A Good Idea (and Code Requirement)

Videos:

A Passivhaus Foundation

A Passivhaus Renovation Project in NYC

Feature Articles:

Passivhaus For Beginners

A Conversation With Wolfgang Feist

Passive House: After Hours

Passivhaus Crosses the Atlantic

Net-Zero-Energy versus Passivhaus

Can Foam Insulation Be Too Thick?

A ‘Magic Box’ For Your Passivhaus

Passivhaus Windows

Windows That Perform Better Than Walls

Choosing Triple-Glazed Windows

Making the Case for Triple-Glazed Windows

‘Innie’ Windows or ‘Outie’ Windows?

Simplicity Versus Complexity

Heating a Tight, Well-Insulated House

HRV or ERV?

Forgotten Pioneers of Energy Efficiency

The History of the Chainsaw Retrofit

Equipment Versus Envelope

Remodel Project: Deep Energy Retrofit

Video: Superinsulating a Home With Rigid Foam

PowerPoint: The History of Superinsulated Houses in North America

Can ‘Passive House’ Be Trademarked?

Service Cavities for Wiring and Plumbing

Occupant Behavior Makes a Difference: Or, when is a Passivhaus not a Passivhaus?

EnerPHit — The Passive House Approach to Deep Retrofit

Cold-Climate Passivhaus Construction Costs

The Klingenberg Wall

Passive House Training, One Year Later

Is the Passivhaus Program Truly Innovative?

Calculating the Embodied Energy Payback for Passivhaus Buildings

Will Passivhaus Remain a Boutique Program?

Pro/Con Viewpoints:

Pro/Con: Does Passivhaus Make Sense Over Here?

In Defense of the Passive House Standard

Comparing Passivhaus Homes to Other Low-Energy Homes

Passive House: What Do You Think?

Passive House 2: Reader Questions and Responses

A Post-Passivhaus Paradigm for Energy-Efficient Design

Are Passivhaus Requirements Logical or Arbitrary?

A Passivhaus Rebuttal: In Defense of the Standard

PHIUS PHlogging

Passivhaus Buildings Don’t Heat Themselves

Ten Misconceptions About the Passive House Standard

A Post-Passivhaus Paradigm for Energy-Efficient Design

Green Homes Articles:

The First U.S. Passive House Shows That Energy Efficiency Can Be Affordable

Passive House Methods Help Build for the Future

Deep Energy Makeover: One Step At A Time

Podcasts:

Passivhaus, Part 1: Concepts and Basics

Passivhaus, Part 2: The Standards

Passivhaus, Part 3: So You Want to Be a Passivhaus Consultant?

National News Stories:

Habitat’s High-Performance Experiment

A U.S.-Made Door for Passivhaus Buildings

Passivhaus Practitioners Share Their Success Stories

Three U.S. Projects Are Passivhaus Award Finalists

A Passivhaus Conference in Germany

A Petition Strives to Defend a Certain Definition of ‘Passive House’

Possible Relaxation of Passivhaus Standard Stirs Debate

A Bridge Over Passivhaus Waters

PHIUS Tries to Trademark ‘Certified Passive House Consultant’

PHIUS Draws a Line in the Sand

The Passivhaus Institut in Germany Disowns Its U.S. Satellite

The American Passive House Institute Responds to Dr. Feist

Round 3: Wolfgang Feist Discusses the PHI-PHIUS Split

Passivhaus Combatants Continue To Speak Out

When Remodelers Carve Paths to Passive House

Solar Decathlon Winners Embrace Passivhaus Standard

A New Passivhaus Advocacy Group for the U.S.

Solar Decathlon Winners Embrace Passivhaus Standard

Nudging Passive House Concepts into the Mainstream

Consultant: Europe Leads U.S. in Green Building

European Products for Building Tight Homes

Should It Be a Passivhaus or a Passive House?

Folding Glass for Passivhaus Projects

A Mileage Sticker for Every Passivhaus

Brute Force Collaborative

PHIUS Posts Window Data

PHIUS Says No to Some Types of Spray Foam

Passivhaus and Spray Foam

PHIUS Measures Its Approach to Spray Foam

Regional News Stories:

Alaska

A Passivhaus Design for Alaska’s Frigid Climate

California

When Remodelers Carve Paths to Passive House

The First Passivhaus Retrofit Certification in the U.S.

Preaching Passivhaus in California

California’s First New-Home Passivhaus Is Also a Rental

A Passivhaus Debut Just South of San Francisco

Colorado

NZE Community Near Boulder

A Long Delayed Net-Zero Community Nears A Restart

Kansas

Prescott Passive House: A Class Project

Prescott Passive House: A Tough Sell

Prescott Passive House Saga Continues, with a Discount

Louisiana

Passivhaus Finds a Home in the Bayou State

Following Up on a Passive House in the Deep South

Applying Passivhaus to Post-Katrina Reconstruction

Does Passivhaus Work in New Orleans?

Maine

Striving for Passivhaus Affordability

Gearing Up for a Passive House Residence at Unity College

Squeezing the Price on Passivhaus

A Cohousing Community Readies for Construction

Unity College’s TerraHaus Aims for Passivhaus

Unity College’s TerraHaus Debut

Striving for Passivhaus Affordability

Two Single-Family Passivhaus Projects in Maine

Maryland

A Passivhaus Doesn’t Have to Look Weird

Massachusetts

Little House, Big Energy Efficiency in Boston

Applying Passive House to a Century-old Building

A Conservative Legislator with a Passivhaus Mindset

Matt Beaton’s Full-Court Passivhaus Press

Aiming for Passivhaus in Boston

Passivhaus on Spec in Boston

Michigan

Michigan Gets Its First Passivhaus

Minnesota

A Passivhaus Retrofit in Minnesota

MinnePHit House

New Jersey

Passivhaus Building the Modular Way

New Mexico

Paths to Passivhaus in Santa Fe

New York

The Passive House Family Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Steps Forward and Back in Brooklyn, NY

A Passive House Take on the Hudson Valley

Green Prototypes in Upstate NY Edge Toward Summer Unveiling

A Habitat Passivhaus for Upstate New York

R-House is Still a Passivhaus Contender

A Passivhaus Project Wraps Up in Brooklyn

Bringing Passivhaus to Harlem

Passive House Design Comes of Age

EcoVillage at Ithaca Plans a Passivhaus Branch

For Sale: One Passivhaus, $595,000

Passivhaus is Blossoming in Brooklyn

After a Bumpy Start, a Passivhaus Success Story

North Carolina

Passive House: What Do You Think?

Ohio

Striving for Passive House in Ohio

A Straw-bale Project Aims for High Performance

A Museum Will Build, Then Sell, a Passivhaus

Oregon

Building to the Passivhaus Standard in Northern Oregon

Traditional Styling, Passive House Construction

Oregon’s Reach Code Adopts the Passivhaus Standard

Karuna House: One Project, Three Certifications

Trekhaus: A Passivhaus Duplex in Oregon

Pennsylvania

Affordable Urban Green in Philly

Onion Flats’ Big Multifamily Passivhaus Plan

An Affordable Passivhaus Comes to Pittsburgh

Passivhaus Townhouses Are Underway in Philadelphia

Texas

Aiming for Passive House in Texas

Utah

Pioneering Passive House in the Western U.S.

Passive House Ambitions Land in Park City, Utah

Vermont

Vermont House Wins $10,000 Net-Zero-Energy Prize

Habitat’s Passive House Focus in Vermont

Habitat in Vermont Continues Its Passive House Journey

A Vermont Home Aims for Passivhaus Certification

The Passivhaus/Almost Passive House Faceoff

Virginia

Farmhouse Style Meets Passive House

Passivhaus on a Budget

Virginia Farmhouse Wins Top LEED Honors

Washington

Touting a Hotel with High (Energy Efficiency) Standards

A Passive House Kick-Start in the Northwest

A Passive House That Fits in Your Pocket (Almost)

Visiting Passivhaus Job Sites in Washington State

More Passivhaus Site Visits in Washington State

A Passivhaus Take on Multifamily

Seattle Passivhaus: Yours for $1.45 Million

A Contemporary Passivhaus Design in Seattle

Washington, DC

The First Project in the D.C. Area to Aim for Passivhaus Certification

Solar Decathlon: Parsons and Stevens Institute Team Up

A Passivhaus Project in D.C. Nears Completion

Wisconsin

Passive House in the (Wisconsin) Woods

Passive House in the Woods Opens Its Doors

Passive House in the Woods Goes Energy-Positive

A ‘Kit-Home’ Approach to Passivhaus

Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Jolts Passivhaus Owner

International News Stories:

Australia

Hunting Energy Efficiency in Southeast Australia

Belgium

Belgian Passivhaus is Rendered Uninhabitable by Bad Indoor Air

Bulgaria

Promoting Passivhaus in Bulgaria

Canada

Passive House Finds Friends in Canada

Canada: Showcasing Passivhaus on the Olympics’ Stage

Canada: Austria Passive House Takes a Star Turn

Canada: Passivhaus Forum Set for Austria House

Canada: Forging Ties Between Pre-Design and Passivhaus

Canada’s First Residential Passivhaus Building

An Affordable Passivhaus in British Columbia

Canada: Is This Building Passivhaus-Certified?

My Earth Tube Story

Alberta’s First Passivhaus?

Ireland

Irish Passive House Raises Bar for Eco Design

An Irish Bungalow Gets an A1 Energy Retrofit

Ireland: ‘All New Construction and Retrofits Must Be Carbon-Neutral’

Germany

Germany’s Plus-Energy Town

New Zealand

Moving Toward Passive House in New Zealand

Russia

Russia’s First ‘Active House’ Gets a Test Drive

United Kingdom

A Passivhaus Guide for the U.K.

Giving Passivhaus a Push in Britain

The Passivhaus Component of Britain’s ‘Green Deal’

British Distributor Specializes In Passivhaus Building Materials

U.K. Builder Trying Again on Eco-Home

U.K. Builder: Airtight Construction Trumps Renewable-Energy Add-ons

Britain’s Zero Carbon Mandate

U.K.’s Architype Wins Ashden Award for Commitment to Sustainable Design

UK: An Architect, an Arch, and Passive House Performance

Remodeling a U.K. Victorian for Passivhaus Performance

Victorian Haus Party in London

U.K. Victorian Finds Its Way to Passivhaus Performance

Another U.K. Victorian Gets a Passivhaus Makeover

A Three-Home Project in Wales Aims for Serious Green

Wales’ Passivhaus Projects Measure Up

In the Forums:

Wolfgang Feist Responds to Rideau Residences Controversy

A TV news report on Alan Gibson’s Passivhaus development

PHIUS lawyers accuse New York Passive House of stealing PHIUS’s “trade secrets”

Dr. Wolfgang Feist posts a comment on GBA’s Passivhaus reporting

Link to Dr. Wolfgang Feist dialogue

PassivHaus Discussion

“Murky” Passivhaus Discussion Continues

Can a Kitchen Downdraft Fan Be Connected To an HRV?

I’m thinking of building attached townhouses in NYC (3 or 4 floors).

HVAC For Tight Envelope House

Airtighness Goals

Passivhaus Translations

Dr. Feist Videos

Passivhaus Standards for North America?

Passivhaus Discussion

Passive House Consultant training

PassivHaus Clothes Dryers?

Hot Water for a Passive House

To those who attended the 2009 Passive House conference

Very Recent Passivhaus Article

Any Passivhaus homes built using green rough-cut lumber?

Net-zero help

Exterior doors that are well-insulated and seal well

Hudson Valley Passive House

Passivhaus Pioneer award for Amory Lovins

GreenSpec Product Guide

Pazen Fenstertechnik Windows

Serious Windows

Zehnder ComfoAir HRV

Sorpetaler Windows

Folding Glass for Passivhaus Projects

Drewexim Passive House Doors

Intus Passive House Doors

Outside Resources:

Passive House Institute US

Passive House Northwest

Passive Buildings California

Canadian Passive Building Coalition

PassivHaus Institute, Darmistadt, Germany

PassivHaus Institute, UK

9 Comments

  1. Interested Onlooker | | #1

    Either the two people in the
    Either the two people in the photograph are very, very small or this is not a tiny building...

  2. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    It's 1,200 square feet
    Interested,
    You have a good point. It's 1,200 square feet — not as large as the typical new home, but not really "tiny." In response to your comment, I'll change the wording of the caption.

  3. mike | | #3

    Smith house
    1200 sf for a 2-br house in the States is fairly minuscule.

    The building appears larger than it is because the south-facing living room is a double-height space (soaking up rays and extending light into the depths of the house).

  4. Doug McEvers | | #4

    Passive House
    I was in this house on the 2007 PH tour on a cool but sunny November day, it was very comfortable and got a bit warm with 30 or 40 people inside ( lots of temporary internal gain). The house feels larger than it is with the 2 story south facing living area, this home treads lightly.

  5. Ed Welch | | #5

    Extremely simple design...
    Katrin's house is also a very simple design (for economic reasons) with very few windows on the colder sides, north and east. I don't think this home represents the strengths of the Passive Haus Concept. But if you read her book, Passive Houses in the US, you will get a better representation of more complex designs. I look forward to their next book when we will see more projects completed
    , homes that look like all the homes we see every day.

  6. Jim Merrithew, SE Ontario, 6A | | #6

    Daniel,
    Thank you for

    Daniel,
    Thank you for compiling the list of links. There are several blogs and discussions I had not encountered yet. This list will simplify the search for information.

  7. User avater
    Daniel Morrison | | #7

    Just doin' my Job, Jim
    Glad you like it.

    BTW, Martin doubled the number of links on this page recently.

    Dan

  8. Kevin Dickson P.E., MSME | | #8

    Great Summary, BUT
    The PassivHaus (PH) standard is a great guideline and is roughly in the top three in popularity.

    But here's a big caveat for especially for homebuilding novices ready to drink the PH Kool-Aid: be careful, some of the specifications are overkill for your home and your climate. By overkill, I mean they cost you more than they are worth.

    Robert Riversong doesn't pull any punches in his disdain for PH. He can be brutally rude & honest, but he's still highly regarded on these forums:

    "the PH standards are arbitrary and excessive and are not cost-effective to meet in an affordable home. They take a couple of good ideas (air tightness and superinsulation) to a ridiculous extreme. Extremism is never a solution, but merely creates new problems."

    I'm more diplomatic: I say that if PH has caught your fancy, go for it, but be ready to jettison at least a few of its hard-to-meet requirements. If you don't know which ones they are for your project, you need to hire a good energy rater who can explain it to you. You may not even get your "PH certification" but you've saved money and headaches.

    Not getting certification is no big deal, there isn't a shred of evidence that it would add to the resale value of your project.

    I'm still pushing the concept of an EPA energy rating for homes that is in dollars per year. PH and LEED and Energy Star and HERS are too complicated for the average consumer. "This house will use 50% less energy than if the home were built to the minimum code that was in effect in 2006" WHAT?!? or "This house is PassivHaus certified because it uses less than 15kwh/m2/yr" HUH??!

  9. Garth Sproule 7B | | #9

    Another article
    I would like to see an article discussing why so many PH designs seem to have no regard for summer shading of south facing glazing. The home pictured at the beginning of this blog is a prime example of what I am questioning...

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