What is Passive House Design?

A passive house design uses a set of design principles for the building to achieve quantifiable and rigorous level of energy efficiency with a acceptable comfort level. A passive building optimizes the gains and loses based on the climatic conditions. The article briefs the basic principles behind passive building construction as per US standards and rules.



Passive house design are developed by physicists to make a more energy-efficient buildings than normal standard buildings. Passive house design is an international building standard which is gaining popularity as it provides the homeowners a welcoming environment to promote physical, mental and financial health.

Principles of Passive Building Construction 



A passive building is designed and built in accordance with these five design principles:

  1. A passive building uses continuous insulation throughout its entire building envelope 
  2.  The passive building envelope is extremely tight, that prevents the infiltration of outside air and any loss of conditioned air.
  3. Depending on the type of climate, double or triple-paned windows are used called as high-performance windows that manages to exploit the solar energy for heating purpose in the summer season and minimizes overheating during, cooling season.
  4. Passive buildings make use of balanced heat and moisture recovery ventilation.
  5. A minimum space conditioning system is employed.

Design Elements of Passive Buildings

Passive Building construction rely on simple construction and all types follow a similar construction method. The important design elements of a passive building are:

1. Airtight Building Envelopes


A building envelope comprises the walls, roofs, doors and windows. Their proper installation without any leak or gap to prevent loss of conditioned air or infiltration of pollutants can help to bring a airtight building envelope.

2. No Thermal Bridges

Thermal bridges or thermal bridging is the process of loss of heat through poorly insulated barriers. It badly affects the pathway of energy balance within the building envelope.
The major culprits of thermal bridging are windows which accounts for 50 percent of energy loss. Triple glazed windows are the best option for this. They improve thermal resistance by effectively harvesting indirect and direct sunlight that can result in more heat generation.

3. Continuous Insulation


A passive building uses small appliance, light bulbs, sunlight and even our body for indoor heat generation. The temperature is maintained in order to ensure that the building envelope includes high quality and layered insulation.

4. Strategized location and orientation


Passive buildings tries maximum to make use of natural heat generators-sun to maintain an indoor temperature. This makes the designers to place the building in the reference to direct and indirect sun exposure. 
A comfortable environment is very much influenced by the geographical location and the window orientation. 
A window that gets heated during the winter months and gets shaded during the summer is an effective window orientation for a passive home.

5. Heat recovery ventilation


Passive buildings makes use of certain systems to manage comfortable environment to minimize the energy consumption. A heat recovery ventilation system (HRV) an help to reduce heating and cooling demands in a home. These system is used based on the weather conditions. 

For a well-insulated and airtight system, HRV system lets fresh air into the home by maintaining balanced and comfortable temperature.

Benefits of Passive Buildings


Passive building principles can be applied for buildings of all typologies, let it be single-family homes or multi-family homes, officers and skyscrapers. The major benefits of passive buildings are:
  1. Extraordinary indoor air quality is maintained due to continuous mechanical ventilation of fresh and filtered air.
  2. Passive building design is a comprehensive system approach for modeling, design and construction process that finally develops a extremely resilient building.
  3. A passive design offer a better and best path to net zero and net positive building.
Performance Standard for passive buildings in cooperation with Building Science Corporation under a U.S DOE Building America Grant, have put forward an updated PHIUS+ 2018. The standard will be periodically updated based on the changing market, materials and climatic conditions.

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Anre A

I am a structural engineering professional who is passionate about researching new content in the construction industry and bringing to people around the world.

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