Passiv Haus

Several years ago, I learned about the Passiv Haus (Passive House) movement and got pretty excited about it. I bought Katrin Klingenberg's book, "Homes for a Changing Climate" and traveled to their annual conference, held that year at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. I spent three days in detailed seminars and toured Passiv Haus projects built in the area. If you believe, as I do, that there are limited resources on this planet, then Passiv Haus and building very energy efficient structures make a lot of sense. If you go to web sites to learn about Passive Haus, you'll find a very active and passionate community, but rather small. 

There are a number of problems with Passiv Haus that are stumbling blocks, in my opinion. The first is that it is so difficult to meet their standards and be  certified that it generally requires simple shapes (rectangular), very thick walls (14" to 16" of cellulose in double wall construction, and/or  6" of sheet insulation over the sheathing), thick insulation around and under the foundation and basement floor (in one structure, 14" of styrofoam under the concrete slab was required by their software to achieve passive house certification) and very elaborate, high end windows. 

Elaborate window

This vendor's window  construction has multiple weather stripping, embedded cork, triple glazed windows and thermal breaks.

The end result is close to a net zero energy home with design compromises that would make them unattractive for many people in a market where angles and dangles, hips and valleys and dormers and corners seem to be de rigueur. Many of the homes we toured were rather plain but to be fair, they were the first built in this country and were more proof of concept projects…

Passive Haus 1

….but we did tour one Passive Haus home out in the country that was beautifully done. 

Passive House 2

The second problem is cost. They do cost slightly more than a home with comparable square footage but that cost will be offset by the huge energy savings realized every year. 

Thick walls

       In this photo, you can see just how thick the wall construction is.

To be honest, I haven't built a passive house yet, but I do think we can take many of their principles and methods and apply them to new construction to achieve a much more energy efficient structure and healthy environment.

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