Fundamental Principles Behind Passive House Design

In recent years we can observe a market transformation and substantial growth in the number of passive house buildings. With the trend that aims to reduce our Ecological Footprint and the skyrocketing heating bills, it is no wonder that more homeowners see the benefits of passive homes. This article will explain the basic principles of Passive House Design and why modern doors and windows are essential to achieve excellent energy efficiency and daily comfort.

[Definition of Passive House – A building concept where heat loss or gain through the walls, roof, and windows is drastically reduced by using insulation, high-quality windows, and careful sealing. In this context, the word “passive” comes from the fact that much of the heating required is met through sources such as solar radiation or the heat emitted by occupants and technical appliances. This concept originated in the 1970s and acknowledged energy – efficiency as key to a building’s comfort and operation over its lifetime. ]

Introduction to Passive House Design – Why is it gaining popularity?

The American dream of home ownership is evolving in an age of skyrocketing energy costs and increasing environmental consciousness. Homeowners across the United States are now craving spaces that are functional, aesthetically pleasing, and ecologically responsible. Enter the Passive House, a holistic approach to home design that redefines what it means to live sustainably. More than just a trend, the Passive House movement is a revolution in architectural design that is gaining momentum every year.

According to a study, North America’s number of Passive House units grew six-fold, from 500 in 2015 to over 3,000 in 2021. Massachusetts Clean Energy Center reported in 2021 that families have moved into 257 affordable housing units in complexes built to the passive house standard. Many documents indicate that this building approach may soon reach the mainstream. The average cost is less than 3% of conventional construction but allows to cut the energy costs in half.

As homeowners become more discerning, they increasingly seek out these high-performance homes, which offer enhanced indoor air quality, superior thermal comfort, and remarkable energy efficiency, slashing heating and cooling costs by up to 90% and making it an attractive choice for homeowners across the socio-economic spectrum. As word spreads about the tangible benefits of these structures, we can assume with a high probability that the demand for Passive Houses will keep increasing in the upcoming years.

How do passive houses help to reduce ecological footprint?

Many people confuse Passive Homes with Green Buildings, which are constructions that are based on recyclable materials [homes made of glass bottles etc]. Although in some parts of the world, these types of buildings can be constructed and reduce the overall ecological footprint – modern passive homes work on a larger scale, and recently, we have seen this technology go mainstream on many levels. The influx of professionals trained in Passive House construction techniques indicates that the modern market in the US is changing. Passive Homes can significantly reduce the ecological footprint in several ways.

Imagine a world where buildings emit 40% less greenhouse gas. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Well, that’s the reality with Passive House design. It doesn’t just stop at being kind to the environment; it’s also kind to the homeowner’s pocket. Lowering monthly costs indirectly curbs carbon emissions, playing a role in the global objective of creating a cleaner, greener planet.

Energy efficiency is another feather in the cap of Passive Houses. These homes, with their thickly insulated walls, airtight construction, and high-efficiency mechanical systems, are like energy-saving superheroes. They use a staggering 90% less energy for heating and cooling than their conventional counterparts, making them leaders in low-energy living.

What’s more, Passive Houses champion the use of sustainable materials. Think cork flooring and wool insulation, reducing carbon emissions while constructing beautiful, comfortable living spaces. Let’s take a closer look into the features of modern Passive Home design.

Corner window - Oknoplast

Key Features of Passive House Construction

A few fundamental principles are used to design and build Passive Homes that meet the highest standards. Certification is an important aspect and must be addressed. In the US, Passive Houses can be certified by the Passive House Institute (PHI) or the US Certification from PHIUS (Passive House Institute US). Now let’s look at the features of a perfect Passive House.

High-quality insulation

High-quality insulation leads the charge, the unsung hero of the Passive House design. Imagine a cozy thermal blanket enveloping your home, acting as a buffer against the outside world. This insulation isn’t just about keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer; it’s about making the most efficient use of energy to maintain a consistent, comfortable indoor environment. Many experts point out that Passive Homes should be comfortable all year around, with no more than 10 percent of the hours in a given year exceeding 25°C. It’s worth mentioning that additional insulation layers add the advantage of greater soundproofing.

Heat control and robust windows

When we talk about energy efficiency in buildings, we usually think about walls and additional insulation layers. But many experts point out that glazing systems (windows and glazed doors) can be even more significant in contributing to space-heating energy. Robust windows and patio doors provide natural sunlight and transfer heat energy into the building interior.

Every weak spot in the wall makes the heat membrane more difficult to sustain. That’s why in Passive Home, design architects pay special attention to selecting high-performing window systems.

From our field, OKNOPLAST PAVA and PIXEL systems are great examples of implementing triple-glazed windows to recover the most heat.

A couple of features play a significant role in certified passive windows like PAVA or PIXEL systems. First is the overall glazing surface. Windows reinforced on the frame and made of durable composite material can hold larger glazing panels which means more light and heat are available. At OKNOPLAST, we see great results by combining STV technology with uPVC composite, thus allowing us to build larger sachs. The number of chambers is a second key factor in minimizing heat losses.

But the most important element of passive windows is glazing. Triple glazing windows with beneficial heat transfer coefficient are suited for Passive Homes – thanks to the bonding technology in the PAVA system, the glass and the profile become one element, leaving no space for heat loss. Finally, we use an additional gasket in the frame to ensure that thermal and acoustic insulation are brought to the highest standard.

HST Patio Door

HST Patio Door – Oknoplast

Airtight construction

In Passive Homes restricting uncontrolled air movement is necessary. A lot of heat during the year can be lost if the building has ducts or some perforations to the air membrane. Usually, it occurs when there is insufficient detailing during construction or when construction is of poor quality. Many gaps can be located around windows and doors. That’s why choosing an experienced installation team is an important step. The change of air quantity can be measured in order to receive a certification for a passive home. In this test, the building needs to have less than 0.6 air change per hour (ACH50) to meet the certification standards.

Balanced Ventilation with Heat & Moisture Recovery

A Passive House ventilation system uses a heat recovery ventilator to constantly deliver fresh air and remove built-up pollutants, odors, CO2, and moisture from the indoor space. The trick in a passive home ventilation system lies in using heat from the exhaust air and using it to heat up the fresh air that is introduced into the airflow without mixing two airstreams together. Of course, recovering all the heat is impossible, but if the system can recover 75% of the heat, that is enough to maintain the passive house standard.

Thermal bridge-free detailing

Last but not least, Passive Houses employ thermal bridge-free detailing. These are careful design and construction elements that ensure there are no weak spots in the insulation where heat can escape. It’s a meticulous process that eliminates thermal bridges, contributing significantly to overall energy efficiency.

In conclusion, with their emphasis on high-quality insulation, robust windows, airtight construction, balanced ventilation, and thermal bridge-free detailing, passive house design offers an effective solution for reducing our ecological footprint. These homes not only curb carbon emissions but also provide homeowners with comfortable and energy-efficient living spaces. As the demand for sustainable housing continues to grow, passive house design is poised to shape the future of architecture and contribute to a cleaner, greener planet.

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