Incorporating Passive House concepts into your project
After originating in Europe, the Passive House movement has slowly made its way into the US high performance home market, raising the bar for energy performance all along the way.
Although to date there have only been a handful of projects meet the strict criteria, the program's concepts can still be applied to any project that is looking to achieve a higher level of energy performance. As Thomas Ahleman, a Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC), advised, "you can still make better buildings if you follow the principles. The beauty of the Passive House criteria is that it's performance-based, not prescriptive."
Jim Burton, president of the Passive House Northwest chapter, said, "You only have to meet three criteria- two limits on energy and one on air tightness."
To follow Ahleman, Burton, and other CPHC's, here are their insights on incorporating Passive House concepts into your project:
- Since heating in a Passive House is all about solar gain, the placement of windows and the orientation of the house itself are crucial. Ahleman said a south-facing orientation provides the greatest control over solar gain. At the same time, avoid putting windows on the east and west sides, as “half the day they’re just sucking energy out,” Ahleman said, “and you’re not getting energy in.”
- An airtight envelope of a home can save homeowners on energy bills in the long run. This means packing in as much insulation as possible. As an added benefit, keeping warm air in and cold air out will improve the health of the home’s occupants.
- Choose your insulation materials wisely in order to achieve air tightness.
- Education is key. Take the Passive House training course, reach out to a CPHC, or find a local Passive House association. “Passive House chapters are there to act as a resource for professionals and a forum for practitioners to share their knowledge and solutions,” Burton says. A full list of CPHC’s nationwide can be found here.
- Passive House retrofits are a possibility as well. You can incorporate many of the same concepts into renovations (insulation upgrades, air tightness measures, etc.) that are used when constructing new homes.
By Heather Ferrier Laminack, Approved Contributing Expert and marketing manager for Texas-based green home builder Ferrier Custom Homes.