General questions about Passive Houses

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What is it like to live in a Passive House?
A Passive house provides a great environment for life with extraordinary low heating bills and excellent indoor air quality. It provides a high comfort level and is low maintenance to the user as well as dramatically reducing your carbon footprint.

Why should I bother building a Passive House?
Why should you not? In the next 2-5 years, it is the ambition and highly likely that the European Parliament will ensure that Passive House is the base standard of construction across the EU. Think in the longer term about how energy efficient your house will be in 5 years time as building standards are forever improving. The value of your property will of course follow the trend.

What if my Passive House doesn’t work?
Your Passive House will work. It is essential that your passive house is properly designed through speciality software such as PHPP (Passive House Planning Package), which shows how your Passive House will work, all before building commences. It is important that accuracy on site is maintained in order to achieve this standard of airtightness and low thermal bridging. There are currently 17,000 Passive Houses across Europe reaping the benefits of high levels of comfort in climates that are a lot colder than the UK & Ireland. If these houses didn’t work, they wouldn’t keep building them!

What is the most challenging aspect of Passive House construction?
The most likely is the onsite construction in regards to the airtightness of sealing difficult junctions. The construction team need to be fully aware of the need to achieve this onsite, including plumbing or electrical installers who may innocently tear the membrane to fit the necessary services. It is important that a project manager is onsite to ensure that the building is constructed in such a manner to achieve the Passive House Standard, as any inaccuracies could result in your Passive House under performing.

Can an existing building be upgraded to Passive House Standard?
Yes. Although generally this is expensive. A retrofit solution is possible and the Passive House Institute  (Passivhaus Institute ) have developed a new approved standard for retrofit called EnerPHit - the Passive House Certificate for old buildings.  This standard does not achieve the same energy efficiency as the Passive House Standard (25KWh/m2a retrofit as opposed to 15KWh/m2a new build). Perhaps replacing the dwelling with a brand new design will prove more worthwhile and cost effective depending on circumstances.

Is it possible to surpass the Passive House Standard?
Yes. It is very possible to build an even better insulated home but it is well proven that the cost of doing so is not generally economically sensible. It is possible to introduce renewable resources such as photo-voltaic panels to generate the electricity required and produce a ‘net-zero carbon’ home (where the amount of energy that you consume per year is equal to or more than the energy produced).

Can any architect design a passive house?
Yes, provided it is designed to Passive House standard. It is vital that the building design is tested and verified using the specialist software PHPP (Passive House Planning Package). At present, there are few consultants throughout the UK & Ireland with this specialist knowledge.  It is recommended that, as a minimum, a Certified Passive House Designer would be appointed to oversee the design and build.

Does a Passive House always have to look boring to be efficient?
No. There is a common misconception that Passive Houses have to be boring, simple shapes with no windows on the northern side and the southern side fully glazed. It is obviously more efficient and ultimately cheaper to construct a compact shape with optimal solar gain, typical of any construction. The house designer should otherwise be free to create any bespoke design according to the clients’ desires in whatever style they wish.