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7.5 Building Design: Passive House

Author: Johanna Weber

ABSTRACT: Passive House is the world leading building standard in energy-efficient construction and is one of the pioneering concepts for building low-energy houses.

Diagram 1. (Image Credit: The Passive House Institute)


Established by the Passivhaus Institute in Darmstadt, Germany in 1996, “Passive House” is a building standard that is truly energy efficient, comfortable and affordable all at the same time. A Passive House requires as little as 10 percent of the energy used by typical Central European buildings, resulting in an energy savings of up to 90% compared with typical building stock and over 75% compared to average new builds. A Passive House uses less than 1.5 l of oil or 1.5 m3 of gas to heat one square meter of living space for a year, which is sustainable and considerably less than common “low-energy” buildings. These energy savings and heat consumption differences are further outlined in Diagram 1, where four low energy settlements/housing estates (left) are compared to three Passive House settlements.

The vast energy savings in a Passive House are achieved by using energy efficient building materials and a quality ventilation system that reduce greenhouse gases by a considerable amount. These vast energy savings have also been demonstrated in warm climates where typical buildings and homes also require active cooling. Passive Houses make efficient use of the sun, internal heat sources and heat recovery, rendering conventional heating systems unnecessary throughout even the coldest of winters. During warmer months, Passive Houses make use of passive cooling techniques such as strategic shading to keep comfortably cool.

For a building or home to be considered a Passive House, the following five principles have to be met: a well-insulated thermal envelope, high performance windows/ glazing, heat recovery ventilation, airtight construction, and thermal bridge free detailing.

Appropriate glazing and windows that are well insulated, along with a building shell that consists of thermal insulated walls, roof and floor slabs are key in keeping heat in during winter and out during the summer. An efficient heat recovery ventilation system is also key in allowing for a constant supply of fresh air, resulting in superior air quality without causing any unpleasant draughts. Striving for airtightness and the absence of thermal bridges, all edges, corners, connections and penetrations are well planned and executed in the design and construction of a Passive house. A Passive House truly has it all: comfort, quality, sustainability, affordability, and versatility.

Praised for their high level of comfort, the Passive House standard offers a new level of quality and maximum level of comfort all season long. Due to their high level of insulation and airtight design, they are also eco-friendly as they use extremely little primary energy without causing any environmental damage. Passive Houses also save money over the long term and are surprisingly affordable to begin. It also can be designed and constructed by any competent architect.

By combining individual measures any new building or home anywhere in the world can be designed to reach the Passive House Standard.


The Passive House Resource. (n.d.). Retrieved Feb 20, 2021, retrieved from

Institute, P. H. (n.d.). Retrieved Feb 18, 2021, from Passive House Institute. Retrieved from

Pathway to Passive House Designer/Consultant Certification – Passive House Canada: Maison Passive Canada. (2021, March 05). Retrieved Feb 15, 2021, Retrieved from

Five Principles of Passive House Design and Construction “Heat Recovery Ventilation.” (2019, October 19). Retrieved Feb. 22, 2020, from

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