Extreme Efficiency: Passive Building

If you find yourself with the opportunity to build a new home, a Passive home is a great standard to build for. Passive house-certified buildings are up to 80 percent more efficient than a home built to typical energy code, while providing an unmatched level of comfort, indoor air quality, and durability.  

Family sitting in front of a passive house

Why Passive Building?

The term “passive building” (or “passive house”) refers to a set of rigorous, voluntary building standards that, when followed, ensure a home will be as comfortable, economical, and energy efficient as possible. Since its conception in Germany in the late 1980s, passive building has become a worldwide home efficiency phenomenon.
 

Why should I care (as a homeowner)?

In addition to being extremely airtight, which protects against air pollution and excessive heat loss and gain, passive design requires continuous insulation, triple-paned windows, and balanced ventilation to control air quality. In a regular house, heating and cooling systems consume the largest portion of energy, but because of passive building’s rigorous standards around air flow, insulation, and ventilation, mechanical HVAC systems can be minimal and use far less energy.

Another major benefit of the passive building approach is durability. A passive house doesn’t get hot or cool as fast as a typical house during extreme weather or power outages — it can maintain a relatively stable internal temperature without excessive HVAC system usage.

“In our very cold climate,” says Tim Eian, a certified passive house designer with Passive House Minnesota, “the sun can provide upward of 50 percent of the energy needed to heat a passive house. Internal heat gains provide an additional 15 percent, making a traditional heating system with furnace or boiler [unnecessary].”

Additionally, because of passive building’s minimal energy demand, renewable energy systems like solar put zero-energy and carbon neutrality goals well within reach.

If increased comfort, indoor air quality, and energy savings are not enough to convince you of the benefits of passive building, it also helps reduce environmental impacts by lowering carbon emissions. Currently, heating, cooling, and hot water in buildings account approximately 45 percent of Minneapolis’ total energy consumption and nearly all the natural gas used each year.

To learn more about the principles of passive house construction, check out the in-depth resources listed at the bottom of this page.
 

How much will it cost?

Cost estimates will vary depending on a new home’s size and design. In a cold climate, passive house-certified construction can cost 10 to15 percent more than a conventional home built to standard code, due to the cost of triple-pane windows, extra insulation, and heat recovery ventilation. 

However, the increased up-front cost will be recouped through money saved on energy bills — heating and cooling costs can be up to 90 percent less than in a typical house. Additionally, other efficiency benefits, as well as reduced maintenance and replacement costs, will result in decades of cost savings.

Passive house will likely become even more affordable as research into new materials and processes continues to evolve.
 

Next Steps

If you are interested in building a Passive house make sure to talk with a passive house consultant or certified designer before you begin planning. For help finding someone in your area, check out the North American Passive House Network or PHIUS.org.

outside resources

North American Passive House Network

Find your local Passive House network.

Passive House Explained in 90 Seconds

Watch a video explaining the the Passive House standard.

Passive House Institute

Independent research institute that has played an especially crucial role in the development of the Passive House concept.

Passive House Institute U.S.

Information and resources on the Passive House standard in the U.S.

Passive House Minnesota

Group of Minnesota-based Passive House professionals and practitioners who educate about and promote the Passive House building energy standard.