Tiny Tuesday: The Passive House

A passive house (or other building) takes advantage of building materials and natural patterns to use as little energy as possible. To heat and light a passive house in the winter, south-facing windows maximize direct sunlight and solar heat; to keep that same house cool in the summer, when the sun is much higher in the sky, deep overhangs block out that heat. Techniques like these combine with highly insulated walls and thermal mass to produce an interior that’s comfortable year-round with very modest HVAC systems.

When capitalized, Passive House refers to a set of standards published by the Passive House Institute, either the original one in Germany or the US counterpart. It’s similar to LEED (which I’ve never written about, come to think of it) in that developers can get official recognition but only if they apply – I’m working right now with an architect who aims to meet Passive House guidelines for our project but won’t bother with the certification.

Unlike net-zero principles, which don’t care how much electricity you use as long as you produce it all on-site, Passive House forces you to minimize consumption. Requirements like “leak no more than 60% of the volume each hour” and “consume no more than 37,900 btu per square foot per year” scale to the size of the structure. Thus, a 5000-square-foot passive house might be no more expensive to maintain than an 800-square-foot conventional house.

If you’d like to learn more, check out the Passive House Institute US website. Better yet, folks in the Burlington area can enjoy a free screening of the movie Passive House Revolution followed by Q+A with leaders in the movement, including Waitsfield architect Bill Maclay. Come to ArtsRiot at 6pm TODAY (Tuesday 9/29) to see the show… hope you can make it!

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