It is a home designed to require minimal heating or cooling, making it an environmentally friendly and economical option for home buyers.
While passive homes may not sound as exciting, they are arousing a lot of interest in real estate circles, and that could mean you’ll see many more in the near future.
So here’s the truth about how they’re built, how much they cost and everything you need to know about whether a passive home might be right for you.
What’s a passive house? How it is built
To officially qualify a house as passive, a house must meet the minimum criteria established by the International Passive House Association. Basically, it means that a house must consume 86% less energy for heating and 46% less for cooling compared to other buildings that comply with the codes in the same climate.
To reduce or even eliminate the need for winter heat and summer air conditioning, a passive house is constructed hermetically, using strong exterior insulation, three-panel windows, and construction methods that ensure no heat is transferred through the outside of the building. No outside air is filtered and no indoor air escapes.
Passive houses can also be located to capture maximum sunlight in winter and shade in summer.
Where to find passive houses
Passive houses are popular in Europe, especially in Germany, where energy is expensive. And although passive houses are still rare in the United States, rising energy costs could change that.
“The first passive houses were built in North America in the 1970s, when energy prices were extremely high, but then oil prices dropped and some people lost interest.”,
says Michael Knezovich, spokesman for the U.S. Passive House Institute. It’s only been in the last decade or so that passive houses have taken off here.
There are only 250 certified passive buildings in the U.S., but the number of projects seeking certification has been growing for many reasons: People crave a smaller carbon footprint, protection against unpredictable energy costs, and the independence of living “off-grid” (many passive houses achieve “off-grid” status with solar panels).
“It used to be that passive buildings were mostly in the Pacific Northwest, due to the eco-conscious culture there.”,
says Knezovich, “but now we’re seeing them built in more extreme climates, like New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
The sub-zero winters and scorching summers in Boise, ID, are what led Ann Vonde and her husband to build a passive house there in 2015.
“We were attracted to energy conservation, both for environmental reasons and to ensure a reduction in future energy bills.”,
How much does it cost to build a passive house?
Building a passive home will typically cost between 10% and 15% more in upfront costs. But you’ll quickly recoup that down payment on lower utility bills, as these homes consume up to 90% less energy.
“Last winter was a cold winter, and my aunt, who lives nearby, said her energy bills were about $600, while the highest was $112”,
But there are also benefits you’ll notice even before your electric bill arrives: where you felt the difference right away.
“There are no drafts or hot spots, and it’s very comfortable to have such a constant temperature,” he says. “It’s also very quiet. We don’t hear any outside noise.”
Benefits of passive housing beyond energy savings
Typically in a passive house, fresh air is introduced and the stale air is expelled by a ventilation system, which passes through a filter to remove allergens and pollution.
Some passive homeowners find that this reduces odors and even sleeps better because the ventilation system prevents carbon dioxide build-up at night.
Passive homes can be especially beneficial for people with allergies or mold sensitivities, as their narrow wraps seal off irritants.
“When hot and cold air is mixed in the walls, condensation occurs. Water creates mold and insect environments”,
Passive House Styles
Passive homes tend to have a modern, minimalist look, all clean lines, and expansive windows, but don’t need to.
“It’s possible to build a passive house with a very traditional look.”
“You’re not limited to salt box designs.”
But there is one characteristic of a traditional house that you probably won’t find in a passive house: a fireplace.
“Fireplaces, stove ventilation ducts, ventilated dryers, anything that requires drilling a hole in the envelope of the house can lead to heat transfer”,
For that reason, she and her husband chose an unventilated dryer. “Because it creates heat and moisture in the house, I don’t use it in the summer and wash my clothes in the sun,” she says.
Although the passive house standard does not require the use of green building practices beyond minimizing the energy use of the finished house, most architects and builders who work on passive houses also incorporate non-toxic materials and sustainable sources.
“While we build this very healthy, high-performance envelope, why would they bring water through plastic pipes?”
“We try to build without harmful ingredients.”