Passivhaus / Passive House – An Incredibly Energy Efficient Building Method

803 Knickerbocker Avenue, Brooklyn / Image courtesy of Brownstoner

803 Knickerbocker Avenue, Brooklyn / Image courtesy of Brownstoner

I’m about to embark on a huge project for the house my wife and I just purchased in Ditmas Park.  We are going to retrofit the nearly-hundred year old Victorian home into an energy efficient Passivhaus (Passive House).  In fact, Jessica Dailey just ran a Curbed article listing our home as one of New York City’s current Passive House projects.

Passive Housing is a form of energy efficient building that reduces a building’s carbon footprint to nearly zero by eliminating the need for cooling and heating elements.  Traditional heating and cooling methods account for approximately 40% of carbon dioxide emissions, which stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years and contribute enormously to the climate change that we have all become too familiar with.  A relatively new concept, Professors Bo Adamson of Sweden and Wolfgang Feist of Germany began to develop the Passivhaus in 1988 as a response to climate change concerns, rising energy prices and reliance on foreign fuel sources.  With a focus on insulation, airtightness, solar power,  and a heat exchange system, the prototype was built in Darmstadt, Germany in 1990.  Today there are about 30K passive homes worldwide, with plenty of them cropping up in NYC.  The Passive House standards can be applied to any type of building construction, not just homes, and, thankfully, buildings can be retrofitted, as was this 2,400 square foot Sonoma, California home that consumes as much energy as a hair dryer on a monthly basis.

The dark colors on this thermogram show how little heat is escaping from the passive house int he center compared to the buildings on the right and left. Photo courtesy of passivhaustrust.org

The dark colors on this thermogram show how little heat is escaping from the passive house in the center compared to the buildings on the right and left. Photo courtesy of passivhaustrust.org

Passivhaus Prototype, Darmstadt, Germany // Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Passivhaus Prototype, Darmstadt, Germany // Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Aside from being very good for the planet, passive housing has many benefits for those who live/work inside the building: the air is extremely clean and fresh; the indoor climate is comfortable year-round; each room is always the same temperature as the rest of the building; and the cost to heat/cool the building is reduced by 80-90% annually.  As a note of comparison, Passive buildings consume about 50% less energy than do LEED buildings.  Most people ask: how much will it cost me and how much will it save me? Passive Housing usually costs between 3-10% more to design and build than standard housing.  Retrofitting typically costs between 10-15% more than standard home renovations, but can cost much more depending on the original construction of the home.

For more information about Passive Housing, attend the NYC Passive House Expo on June 11, 2015, check out Passivhaus Institut’s information resource, Passipedia.org, watch informational videos on their Youtube page, and follow #passivhaus on Twitter for frequently updated worldwide news and photos.

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