January 14 2008

The Passive House (Passiv Haus) Building Standard

Passive House_Image 01

(above) The original Passive Houses in Darmstadt

The Passive House (Passiv Haus) standard is an ultra-low energy building design system which uses extremely efficient building envelopes to significantly drive down energy consumption in structures. The standard is completely voluntary but does have an extremely rigorous set of requirements that must be met in order to be classified as a Passive House. To date only around 6,000 buildings of all varieties including houses, offices, schools, kindergartens, and supermarkets have been certified. Of the total number of buildings, the majority are however houses.

Passive House_Image 02 The Passive House standard was conceived during a series of conversations between staff at the University of Lund, Sweden, and the German Institute for Housing and the Environment. Their initial ideas were flushed out in research papers and then proof of concept housing models were built at the University of Darmstadt, Germany, in 1990. These first buildings were a group of four row homes that proved to be 90% more energy efficient than comparable housing using traditional building methods. The standard is now being supported by the EU sponsored CEPHEUS program and has been adapted for use in several other countries throughout Europe and even the United States. (The American examples include the Smith House and the Waldsee BioHaus)

To be certified a building must meet a strict set of standards. These include:

  1. The building must not use more than 15 kWh/m² per year (4746 btu/ft²) in heating energy.
  2. With the building de-pressurized to 50 Pa (N/m²) below atmospheric pressure by a blower door, the building must not leak more air than 0.6 times the house volume per hour.
  3. Total primary energy consumption must not be more than 120 kWh/m² per year
  4. The specific heat load for the heating source at design temperature is recommended, but not required, to be less than 10 W/m²
(The guidelines are flexible to a point depending on regional and climatic variation)

Passive House_Image 03

(above) The above thermal image shows heat loss from a Passive House (right) compared to a traditional house (left)

The comparisons between typical building codes and the Passive House standard are quite dramatic. For instance, in the United States, a house built to the Passive House standard results in a building that requires space heating energy of 1 BTU per ft² per heating degree day, compared to anywhere form 5 to 15 BTUs over the same period for a house built to meet the 2003 Model Energy Efficiency Code. This translates to between a 70 to 90% reduction in energy consumption for space heating and cooling. One Passive House home built in Waldsee Minnesota (at the Concordia Language Village) uses 85% less energy than a typical house its size.

Design and construction of these houses naturally follows a much more rigorous methodology than that used in traditional buildings (I would like to note however that as with most things, familiarity breeds efficiency and I would assume the same is true for new building methodologies). It is also worth mentioning that Passive Houses are documented to be no more costly than traditional houses of the same size. Designers are provided a "Passive House Planning Package" and use specially designed computer simulation software to predict the behavior of the building. Some of the design and construction strategies used in these houses are:

  1. Passive Solar Design - leverage the sun's energy by strategically lighting or shading the interior space
  2. Superinsulation - high R-values for walls, floors and ceilings that are thermally broken whenever possible
  3. Advanced Window Technology - usually employing triple glazed argon filled double low-e units with super insulated and thermally broken frames
  4. Airtightness - minimize the amount of heat or coolth that escapes the envelope
  5. Ventilation - including heat recovery ventilator systems and earth warming tubes
  6. Space Heating - minimizes the size of heating components and maximizes internal heat gain from other heat sources in the building
  7. Efficient lighting and electrical appliances

Passive House_Image 04

A word from Greenline - I applaud this building standard. It is amazing to see the reduction of energy consumption be so large just by employing essentially passive strategies. I know there are issues with the system such as mold prevention, indoor air quality, and natural lighting reduction, but the gains in efficiency make exploration of these strategies imperative. Greenline posted months ago about buildings in the United States using about 40% of all energy. Imagine that again if all our buildings suddenly became between 70% and 90% more energy efficient. And I do believe that is an achievable goal even given aesthetic, comfort, economic and policy constraints. It simply must be the case if we as a species are ever going to reduce our impact on the planet and keep our standard of living as high as I would personally like.

Stay tuned for more posts on Passive Houses!

For more information on the Passive House standard please visit: The Passive House Institute, The Waldsee BioHaus, E-co Lab Passive House Projects, and Wikipedia.

The two US Passive Houses are posted on Greenline as Smith House: A Passive House in Illinois and Waldsee BioHaus: First Certified Passive House in the US.

Leave a Comment

Thanks, your comment is awaiting approval.


January 16th, 2008 at 11:21 PM


Great Blog I always have a good time reading it. It?d be great if someone knew about this site www.earthlab.com ? I have used their carbon calculator and it seems pretty legit? Has anyone else used it? They are partners with live earth and Al Gore so it must be pretty credible? If anyone else has done digging on this let me know. Oh and I got a score of 289 on their test?lower than the average in my state! Whoop whoop!

January 20th, 2008 at 7:34 PM

Greenline » Waldsee BioHaus: First Certified Passive House in the U.S.

[...] Browse in Energy « The Passive House (Passiv Haus) Building Standard [...]

January 22nd, 2008 at 7:20 PM

Greenline » Smith House: A Passive House in Illinois

[...] Smith House, located in Urbana Illinois, is an all electric house built to the German Passive House Building Standard. To achieve the passive standard, architect and owner, Katrin Klingenberg, created a clean, [...]

February 18th, 2008 at 6:23 AM

Greenline » Glimåkra House: Sweden’s First Svanen Certified House

[...] important to note that because of its energy efficiency, the test house is being submitted for the German PassivHaus [...]

May 14th, 2008 at 11:03 AM


Visit http://www.pabpassivhaus.de - Our Homepage vor Passivhaus in Germany. Greetings. Pab Passivhaus GmbH

May 31st, 2008 at 7:20 PM

Greenline » Building America: Developing Energy Efficient Homes in the US

[...] please visit the Building America website. Interestingly the program shares concepts with the Passive House building standard and just goes to show that good design is universal! Post a comment or leave a trackback: [...]

September 7th, 2008 at 5:58 PM

Greenline » Energy Certificates: Nutrition Facts for European Buildings

[...] ‘Building Facts’ on their recently completed project profiles. Also take a look at the German Passive House Building Standard for more on super efficient [...]

January 29th, 2009 at 1:29 PM

Ken Kleppert

I'm fascinated by the advantages of the Passive Haus philosophy and am interested in how it can be incorporated into this type of housing I'm following. http://www.rocioromero.com/LVSeries/gettingStarted.htm Sincerely, Ken Kleppert

February 3rd, 2009 at 3:16 PM

Greenline » Villa Åkarp – A Positive Net Energy House in Malmö, Sweden

[...] house is based on the concepts of Passiv Haus and so can generate much of its heating from energy that is already being generated in the house [...]

March 4th, 2009 at 2:33 AM

Passive House « Westchester Green

[...] Read more. [...]

June 2nd, 2009 at 12:11 AM

Passive Houses « Energy Climate

[...] check out this thermal photo comparing a passive house to a normal house in the background. http://greenlineblog.com/passive-house-passiv-haus-building-standard/ (Again, you need to scroll about half-way [...]

June 17th, 2009 at 3:57 PM


Hi, I am very impressed with the passive house concept, I am hoping to build a standard passive house in Ireland, only few companies are building there, do you know of www.germanpassivehouses.ie , or can you recommend anyone? Thanks Ellen

June 30th, 2009 at 8:35 AM


Great blog, very informative, i am starting to do my homework for my project on building my house, passive is certainly the way to go from what my researches tells me, i have come across this builder http://www.germanpassivehouses.ie/ who claim that they can build 20% better than an A1 rated house, in your opinion is this possible? Thanks in advance for all information given..

July 15th, 2009 at 1:48 AM

Passive Solar Homes Go SuperNova! at SuperForest

[...] the Passive house wiki. Here’s a US Passive house site. A Passive house post from greenlineblog. A wonderful piece in the Times about Passive houses around the [...]

December 12th, 2009 at 6:35 AM

Steve Waugh

Solar Panel Savings Measurement Tool - website that allows people to check how much will they save by installing solar panels. To calculate the savings, the website considers the square feet area currently available to install solar panels, available sunlight and its intensity in each state in each month of the year, and the energy (kWh) the consumer is currently consuming.