The Passivhaus has its roots in the USA in the seventies, when Amory Lovins proposed super-insulated houses that could be warmed by a hair dryer. They caught on in Germany, where Passivhaus became a standard that is being followed all over Europe. Now that building standard is coming to America.
It is really very simple: you pack in a s**tload of insulation, install very high-performance windows, seal it up tight as a drum and install a very good mechanical ventilation system so that you don’t suffocate.
They can be built in really cold climates, like this Passivhaus mountain hut in Austria
Or They can be built in temperate climates, like the O’niell House in Sonoma, California. It uses 70% less energy than a conventional northern California home. Treehugger has noted that we should forget energy star and LEED — the new green building standard is Passivhaus.
The Passivhaus standard isn’t just for new construction, either; It can also be used for renovations, but it isn’t easy. It is also being used for multifamily structures, like a proposed co-housing project in Brooklyn. The New York Times gave it a great graphic explanation of how it works. But not everyone is convinced that it is perfect; Alex Wilson of Greenbuilding.com thinks that it might be a bit inflexible for America.
Katrin Klingenberg, who brought the Passivhaus to America and runs the Passive House Institute, uses the Anglicized term Passive House. I think, like the British, that we should keep the term Passivhaus as the descriptive word for the standard; passive design is becoming common, but is not the same thing.
Lead photo: Ettel House