Passive House Energy Performance Standards written by Michael Hindle, CPHC
Passive House is an energy performance standard which sets a very ambitious goal of 90% energy use reductions for heating and cooling and 70%-80% over-all below code built structures. While it is admittedly ambitious, and requires rethinking much of what is customarily done in the US building and design industries, Passive House is very realistic, applicable in all climate zones in the US, and cost effective compared to standard construction when operational costs are factored in. Passive House buildings accomplish this goal with greater comfort levels and superior indoor air quality.
The Passive House standard and the associated building strategies are supported by 19 years of exhaustive building performance monitoring and building science research to ensure against the potentially destructive effects of moisture infiltration and condensation (avoiding health problems associated with poorly done energy retrofits).
The Passive House performance standard is achieved through an emphasis on the performance of the thermal envelope and demand reduction. Passive House certified buildings are so efficient, they can be heated with the equivalent of a hair dryer. With such a small demand for energy, the building can produce energy on site with renewable energy sources and become net positive and carbon neutral much more easily than those built to even the most ambitious energy standards that are currently popular in the US.
There are thousands of such buildings in Europe and a growing number in the US. Energy consumption reductions of 90% have been accomplished very reliably in schools, office buildings and single and multifamily residences. For new construction it is relatively easy and very cost effective. Retrofits of existing buildings are often challenging, but similar demand reductions are achievable.
Passive House low-income housing projects have been priced at 10-15% more costly to build than standard construction, but since they have one/tenth the operational cost in terms of heating and cooling, a homeowner can potentially save more on energy expenses than the increase in monthly mortgage payments associated with the efficiency improvements.
Passive House targets are not chosen arbitrarily. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has determined that global emissions of greenhouse gases need to be reduced to 80% below 1990 levels to avoid the worst effects of climate change. This will require an 85% reduction in per capita carbon emissions in the US from current levels. The Passive House standard is the only standard that can achieve sufficient reductions to meet these targets.
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