Passive House in North America

April 6th, 2010 by Peter Schmelzer

I’ve been reading about and researching the Passive House standard lately, and came across a good article on the topic through BuildingGreen.com.

Passive House was launched from Germany under one basic premise: Invest in the building’s envelope to save energy. Through an air-tight, highly insulated building shell, heat transfer is dramatically reduced, requiring less energy to heat and cool the space. Ideally, the envelope’s high performance would offset the need for a large central heating/cooling appliance and that savings would offset the higher cost of increase wall thickness, added insulation, and imported windows and doors. Cooling would be provided through ventilation and supplemental heat could be added to the incoming fresh air when needed. It is a compelling argument for low-energy homes.

One question in my mind is about our severely cold winters in Minnesota. Is it cost effective to avoid a heat plant? There are decreasing returns on efficiency with extreme insulation and with the continuous use of fresh air for ventilation, outside temperature has a larger impact. How does an architect strike a balance and still meet the criteria?

The article suggests that Germany and Minnesota are not equal and may require different standards, whether the Passive House Institute agrees or not. In the end, the goal is low energy, sustainable housing. Passive House is a leader in promoting low-energy homes, but the jury is still out for it’s widespread use in Minnesota.

We look forward to our first chance to embrace and test the Passive House standard.

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