Passive House as a concept is not something new. It has been around for decades with its origins in Germany where it is known as Passivhaus.

At its very core, Passive House represents a useful means of transforming buildings of all types into high quality, low energy environments.

In Europe, this way of thinking has made such an impact on the building industry that entire neighbourhoods in Germany are built with this concept in mind. Also, the whole city of Brussels has started, in 2013, to rewrite its building code to encompass the Passive House standard.

Coming closer to our shores, there have been signs in recent years that the Passive House movement is gathering momentum in Australia as well. Obviously, whenever we deal with something new, especially something as radical as this, doubts will be had and misconceptions can easily occur.

This is why we thought it best to write an article about the myths surrounding the Passive House standard. With something that can have such a long term beneficial impact on a society, the importance of accurate information is key. What will follow is a list of some of the myths on the subject of Passive House.

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1. Building a Passive House is too expensive

It is important to remember that not any building that has some elements of a Passive House can actually be classified as one. In order for a Passive House to receive this certification, rigorous standards must be met. Standards that have been meticulously looked at and determined to be crucial in order to achieve the sustainability and energy independence most Passive House owners are looking for.

The point we are trying to make here is that the requirements of a Passive House did not come by through chance. Numerous research experiments have been carried out in Europe over the years to try and pinpoint exactly what needs to be done in order to achieve the right economic balance.

We can look at one of the most important aspects of a Passive House — insulation. A significant number of studies have been undertaken to find out exactly how much insulation is too much insulation and where the line needs to be drawn in terms of still achieving a measurable return on investment (ROI).

This kind of economic thinking underpins the Passive House standard and it clearly distinguishes it from other green buildings.

We would also like to stress out that Passive House is a standard and not an architectural design. This means that owners can build big or small, simple or luxurious, according to their preferences. Therefore, personal choices will have their own impact on the bottom line.

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2. The stale air myth

One of the main requirements of a Passive House is to keep in as much warmth as possible. This can lead to the misconception that you are not allowed to open the windows as much as you would like and that this can lead to the whole house feeling a bit stuffy. Obviously, no one would want to live in such a house. The Passive House Institute is of the same opinion.

Although opening windows might not be as necessary in a Passive House as it would be in a more conventional building, the option is there and owners are encouraged to use it.

The reason why we mention that opening windows might not be such an often occurrence is because of the sophisticated ventilation system a Passive House needs to be able to employ.

Essentially, this ventilation system controls the humidity within the house to keep it at acceptable levels and it actively replaces the stale atmosphere with fresh air. The air is then ventilated, circulated, and warmed through what is called a heat recovery ventilator.

3. Can a Passive House look sleek and modern?

The simplest answer to this myth is yes, a Passive House can be sleek and modern. It is true that earlier designs were more on the boxy side, but as designers have grown more used to the modeling software, Passive Houses have become more modern and inventive.

The principles governing a Passive House construction process can be attained in a variety of methods and with a diverse choice of materials and designs. Essentially, this means that a Passive House can be tailored to the owners’ needs and tastes.

This flexibility of both the design and house exterior means that you can build a Passive House in tune with the architectural theme of a neighborhood.

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4. With origins in Germany, does it mean that a Passive House is not suitable for other climates?

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, Passive House does have its origins in Germany but it was not developed specifically for Germany. The ideas of sustainability and energy efficiency have been designed with an international aspect in mind.

The main purpose of a Passive House is to work with the climate and not against it. A detailed study carried out by Professor Wolfgang Feist (the founder of the Passive House Institute) and other specialists has indeed concluded that the methods underpinning the Passive House standard are transferable, dependable, and repeatable.

This result is based on the detailed analysis of a range of locations from different countries, with various cultures, building techniques, and technologies. What gives a Passive House its inherent international applicability is the thorough understanding of the whole life cycle. This allows the Passive House standard to reduce risk, facilitate design optimization and attain cost-effective value engineering.

5. The not-spacious-and-uncomfortable-to-live-in myth

These misconceptions come from the Passive House’s concept of keeping in as much warmth as possible and avoiding air leaking out of the building. To accomplish this, insulation is key. Depending on the climate it can be 46 or 30-36 cm thick. This can lead to the idea that a Passive House is not spacious and it can feel uncomfortable to live in.

The reality is actually the opposite. For example, precisely because of a Passive House’s airtightness, it means that you can sit by the window in comfort during winter.

This is in stark contrast with most conventional buildings whereby owners pull away from bay windows and sliding doors during the cold season.

All of this results in more usable space per square meter compared to the small amount lost through the installation of thicker walls.

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6. The Passive House is the same as Passive Solar myth

The confusion surrounding these two concepts stems from their similarity in the principles used. Both use nature to improve comfort when possible. We are referring here to solar access, shading, and ventilation.

However, it is important to point out that these are two very different approaches to achieving energy efficiency and sustainability. For example, a key difference is occupant behavior. A Passive House is exactly this, passive. It does not require much intervention to operate as designed. On the other end of the scale, a passive solar designed house relies on active users. To put it simply, in a Passive House you ask yourself ‘Do I want to open my window?’ compared to ‘Do I need to open my window?’.

Another difference is their adaptability to changes in our climate. Because of ever-changing weather patterns, achieving summer comfort without mechanical cooling can become increasingly difficult.

For instance, in January 2017, temperatures in Sydney rarely dropped below 20 degrees overnight, which made the cooling mode of a passive solar designed house much more difficult to achieve. This is because of its reliance on the thermal mass principle.
Once you decide on the necessity of mechanical cooling, a well shaded, fabric first approach represents the most logical conclusion. Herein lies the main advantage of a certified Passive House approach.

Passive House myths busted?

With the Passive House standard gaining more and more popularity it is equally important for the public to be well informed and have access to accurate information. This is what we tried to accomplish with the present article.

Complex topics do tend to attract their fair share of misinformation and inaccurate sources. The importance of the right expertise cannot be underestimated.

We hope that some of the misconceptions surrounding Passive House have been somewhat dispelled for you. However, if further information is needed or you would like to learn more about the Passive House certifications, click here without hesitation.

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