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Wolfgang Feist Dispels Myths about Passive Buildings

1. You can’t open the windows in a passive house (P!.
On the recommendation of the PHI (Passive House Institute ) every passive house has
windows which can be opened. The technical ventilation system brings fresh air in, so you
wont ever find any stale air in the house, even if you dont open the windows for an
e!tended period e.g. during cold rainy weather. (That there is a lac" of sufficient ventilation
in a lot of buildings, even new ones, is the reason why we recommend ventilation systems#
further information$ http$'ent) Yes" You can open windows#
$. Due to %echanical ventilation the&e is a d&aught.
The ventilation of the living space (ventilates( )ust as much as is necessary for first&class
indoor air *uality, and this is )ust fresh air (normally no return air + this is *uite different from
the mechanical systems used for air conditioning e.g. in the ,-# much, much lower air
flows). Its best to build air inlets at ceiling height, and therefore from as little a distance as
./ cm away from the valves the air flow will no longer be noticeable# you will not feel any
d&aughts in passive houses. (Of course, it has to be airtight, too + and the insulation has
to be good enough in order to avoid free convection due to too high temperature
differences. 0oth is ta"en care of in Passive houses + both is in the very definition of the
'. ( Passive ouse has no heating.
1s a rule a passive house needs only a small heating installation, one, which is not longer
important and no longer e!pensive at all. 0ut it isnt a 23ero heating energy house. The
remaining energy re*uirement for heating is so small, however, that it does not hurt + not
the wallet and not the environment, its less than 4/5 what e!isting buildings use in
average + you could heat the passive house with a few candles. Yes" a passive house
(as a &ule! has heating. (6urther reading$ http$
). ( P is always &athe& *clu%sy*.
7here does such a statement come from8 There are thousands of passive houses in
different shapes and si3es$ from partial hip roof houses, to those li"e truncated cylinders and
cones, to those in 7an"el&piston form. 1rchitectural design is free (well, we do not have
anti&gravity, ever) +he&e is a wide va&iety available.
( 9ust have a loo"$ http,--tinyu& and on the winners of the Passive
House 1wards$ :/4/$http,--/.%p-(&chite0tu&p&eis :/4;$http, )
1. +he technology is still in develop%ent.
1 passive house doesnt re*uire as much technology as a conventional house< The only
special technology which is needed is mechanical ventilation with heat recovery, and this
has been successfully used in =anada and -candinavia for more than >/ years. The core
of the passive house technology is )ust very good insulation + t&ied and tested fo& a long
ti%e. The roots trace bac" several centuries ( http,--tinyu& ) + always
with very good e!perience. -o why wasnt it used even more fre*uently8 One answer is
)ust$ =heap oil (at least it was perceived cheap, because we avoided loo"ing at the
conse*uences). 1nd, yes, there is ongoing development, its going to be even easier, even
better and even less e!pensive in the future + li"e we have seen in the development of
mobile phones in the decades passed + although phones are cheaper and better now,
these have been tried and tested for more than a decade.
2. You can only build a P on a sunny site.
7ell, this opinion might be the result of a mi!&up with the (passive solar( approach. ?ou will
find passive houses on inner&city premises with the main facade facing north. 1 shaded
site is no e!cuse not to build a passive house. ?es, a sunny site is an advantage. ?es,
having windows to the south is the better choice. 0ut crucial is only the energy balance.
7hat we use to calculate this balance, is PHPP. 1nd$ @esigners soon reali3ed, the&e a&e a
lot of options. One should only try.
3. ( Passive ouse is %uch %o&e e4pensive than a conventional house 5 it doesn’t pay
Our last in*uiry showed / to A5 more investment was re*uired initially + and well
e!perienced architects even have built Passive Houses with no higher construction costs to
ordinary contemporary buildings (http,--/.%p-&eally6ost). ?ou also have to factor in higher
financial aid due to the positive environmental nature of the house. The most impressive
result comes later$ residents of a typical dwelling will save between A// and 4B// Curos in
running costs every year. If you calculate this over the lifecycle of the house, you will see
that you &eally can’t affo&d a less efficient house.
1 special topic within this is the added investment of Dthic" insulationE + yes, passive houses
as a rule in cold climates need *uite thic" insulation. Fow$ Insulation turns out to be one of
the cheapest tools to save energy, these are very small investments. 1nd the Dfirst cmE pay
bac" e!traordinarily well + but even the last ones of a passive house insulation do, because
these are still near enough to the very flat optimum and these help to save additional
investment costs in the heat distribution system and all systems connected.
7. ( P is always cold.
There is only one thing I recommend to do$ go and visit a passive house. Inhabitants of
passive houses li"e the warmth# we have measured temperatures between :: and :;G = in
winter. This is affordable, as heating a passive house doesnt cost a lot# in fact, )ust some
4// to :// each year + this is, what others often pay each month. Cven if energy prices
will s"yroc"et + paying your heating bill will still be affordable in a passive house.
8. 9epa&ate &oo%s can’t have diffe&ent te%pe&atu&es in a P.
That is up to the inhabitants$ most users dont really need cold side rooms, it costs little to
"eep them warm + so whats the problem8 If you need, there are many solutions
depending on what your re*uirement is (to open a window from time to time is an easy
one, of course not the most efficient, but still possible and allowed). 1 cool sleeping room,
a cool wine cellar can both be built into a passive house, if re*uired. (l%ost anything is
1:. You can’t &edevelop an old house into a P.
+his is gene&ally t&ue, but its only half the story$ you can build passive house technology
into an old building + it ta"es good e!terior insulation, triple gla3ing and ventilation with
heat recovery. ?ou wont in most cases reach the energy standard of a passive house
(with its 4B "7h%(m
a)), but you will get between $: and '1 0Wh-(%;a!. 0e clear about this
though$ real passive house redevelopments are possible, even for bigger properties. Fow
there is a certification offered for refurbishment using the Passive House concept$
(@r. 7olfgang 6eist, ,niv.&Prof. of 0uilding Physics, Innsbruc" ,niversity)
edition, @armstadt, :/4;&1ugust&4>
<n the Passive ouse
7ant to learn more8 -ee the Passive House internet resource DPassipediaE
There is lot of additional information lin"ed on this site. ?ou will also find lin"s to passive house
alliances%coalitions%information groups and activists all around the world. ?es, there are + in each
(<) Curopean country, in 9apan, =anada, ,-1 and other states. 1nd this is the international
Passive House 1lliance$
The passive house standard is a Drigorous, voluntary, H standard for energy efficiency in
buildings.E (=ited from 7i"ipedia) Its not a trademar" + everybody is allowed to use the
published "now&how. There are voluntary offers for *uality assurance and certification, see
+&aining cou&ses available
To be successful with first pro)ects, training is a good beginning. There are lots of training
courses offered by different institutions, see http,--www.passivehousedesigne&.eu-.
1nother path for an already e!perienced architect is to loo" for a passive house e!perienced
DcoachE + most first passive houses have been built this way. Its not difficult + but you might
need some specific "now how.
=4a%ples of Passive ouses
Iuite often, )ust a documented e!ample Dsays it allE. Have a loo" at P.e4a%ples. 1nd on the
Passive House 1rchitectural 1ward$ http,--/.%p-(&chite0tu&p&eis and
Jast not least, let us cite Kobert Hastings at the Ath =onference$
>Passive Houses need to be optimized in minimizing ecological damage and
maximising the `joie de vivre`.>