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Passive House-Letter to the Editor

A few weeks ago John Dodge of the Olympian wrote a great article introducing the concepts of Passive House. I subsequently noticed a few comments on-line that prompted this ‘letter to the editor’ as a way to clarify a few points about the Passive House Standard.

Dear Editor-

It was strikingly dramatic for me to read John Dodge’s recent article about the Passive House movement, and even more poignant to consider that The Olympian’s readership is becoming more keenly aware of this amazing approach to energy efficient homes. I am Tessa Smith, Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC) at The Artisans Group. I have the pleasure of producing home designs that we build which meet the stringent energy performance standard of Passive House.

As the article describes, Passive House is a specific approach to design and construction that yields a house 90% more efficient than a typical code built home. Unfortunately there is a lot of confusion around whether this is just a recycled version of the passive solar movement from the seventies, or something entirely different. Good ideas do benefit from the work of previous pioneers, and the Passive House approach does include super insulation and solar gain management. However, Passive House is a unique and much more specific approach – it relies on the best of many advances in green building, and the approach removes the need for a large heating system, solar or otherwise. Passive House conservation measures are so optimized that homes can be heated with as little energy as it takes to run a hair dryer. This makes the Passive House approach applicable to any project, regardless of solar access. The approach is the best way to meet a growing demand for affordable and energy efficient homes.

A true Passive House goes through a rigorous design process, with attention being paid to the building science of the structure related to both performance and longevity. A Certified Passive House Consultant designs the project to be a Passive House from the start. This maximizes efficiency and reduces the cost to construct. The design is evaluated through a holistic and data intense modeling process, using the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), including third party verification and regulation from PHIUS (Passive House Institute of the United States). Performance markers and verification during construction ensure the quality and final performance of your Passive House.

When I first became a CPHC, local interest was sporadic, and more often than not the first time my clients heard about Passive House was from me. Now, interest in Passive House is being propelled by financial realities: a modest increase in the cost of construction, and a quick return on this investment. The savings on energy bills pay off the upfront costs in a short period of time. National interest is overwhelming, and The Artisans Group is being contacted on a regular basis by people interested in Passive House design-build projects.

In response to this rapidly growing market, I have witnessed some firms make claims of offering “passive-like” houses, as if a partial approach could possibly compare to the “real deal”! One of the many beauties of Passive House is either you meet the criteria or you don’t, and there are no exceptions. Beware of green washing, if a home isn’t a Certified Passive House, then it isn’t a Passive House at all. Unless the Passive House standard is fully achieved, a quick return on investment will not be realized; partially meeting the standard will result in a less comfortable, and less efficient house, and one that is more expensive to build and own.

If you want to know more about Passive House, feel free to contact me at the Artisans Group. You can swing by to take a peek at several Passive House projects that are currently in the design phase. The Artisans Group will begin construction of the North Residence in July, the first in our county and the second in the state of Washington. We will be photo-documenting the process, and updating our blogs on a weekly basis!