What is a passive house

María Eugenia Velásquez

May 5, 2021
Energy-saving concept photo: wooden toy house and a light bulb

Passive House, or Passivhaus in German, is an energy efficiency standard that is used in the design of houses and buildings to reduce their ecological footprint. This results in ultra-efficient homes that require very little energy to heat or cool their spaces and feel comfortable.

Origins of passive architecture

The concept of passive architecture is nothing new. Although it may be hard to believe, 2,500 years ago in Greece, Socrates was already writing about a type of architecture that adapted to the climatic conditions of its surroundings. Socrates redesigned the Megaron - the great hall found in palaces - with a trapezoidal structure that managed to capture more solar energy in winter and maintain comfort in summer thanks to the overhangs of the porch.

Then, due to a fuel shortage in Rome, it was decided to adopt the solar technique developed by Socrates but to adapt it to the different climates of the empire. Thus, house designs were adapted for the climate of Rome, Egypt, Spain, etc.

Unfortunately, the economic profit from the exploitation of energy resources truncated the development of this type of architecture for many (too many) years. 

It was not until the 1970s, in the context of an energy crisis, that interest in passive architecture and the use of solar energy in buildings was revived, mainly in North America, where several buildings were constructed using these techniques.

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The Passivhaus standard

The innovative system now known as the Passivhaus standard was designed in 1988 by Bo Adamson of Lund University in Sweden, together with Wolfgang Feist of the Institut für Wohnen und Umwelt (Institute for Housing and the Environment). 

They developed the concept as part of a research project funded by the German Ministry of the Environment. From this, several pilot projects were built up in the following years.

Having combined practical experience with theoretical knowledge, the Passivhaus-Institut was founded in 1996 with the aim of promoting, monitoring and further developing the Passivhaus standard.

Dr. Wolfgang Feist. Source: Passivhaus-Institute

To be Passivhaus certified, houses or buildings must meet the following basic requirements:

  • Demanda de calefacción de < 15 kWh/(m²a)
  • Demanda de refrigeración de < 15 kWh/(m²a)
  • Demanda de energía primaria de < 60 kWh/(m²a)
  • Hermeticidad de < 0.6 renovaciones de aire por hora

As you can see, the idea of building efficient homes is nothing new. For thousands of years man has been looking for sustainable housing alternatives, so the technology is there, but it is up to us to put it into practice.

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