Energy efficiency is easier at large scale.

This is also true of the international Passivhaus Standard – it is relatively easy for a large building to meet the requirements compared to a smaller building. The heat loss form factor is part of the reason why this is the case. A large building tends to have less surface area to lose heat relative to the internal volume.

Airtightness is another reason. As this is measured in air changes per hour for Passivhaus, a large building has a large air volume. Achieving 0.6 ach with a large air volume isn’t as demanding as achieving it with a small air volume. It’s still an exacting target to meet, though.

However, the total energy consumption of an energy efficient large building might still exceed the total energy consumption of a smaller less efficient building. For this reason and others, constructing smaller buildings is important in the Anthropocene. We must radically reduce the total amount of CO2 being emitted.

Some people are responding to this by designing and constructing ‘Tiny Houses‘. The houses in this growing movement are around 45m2 or less and often on wheels.

Is it possible for a ‘Tiny House’ to meet the Passivhaus Standard?

Yes, it’s possible to construct a Passivhaus Tiny House – this blog post features three examples. The examples come from the United States, Australia and France and all take unique approaches.

Passivhaus Tiny House: not only is it possible, it’s happening.

046 Passivhaus Tiny House
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This blog post is a review of the 3rd, revised edition of “Details for Passive Houses: A Catalogue of Ecologically Rated Constructions” published in 2009. This book is edited by the IBO, the Austrian Institute for Healthy and Ecological Building. It is a large and hefty hardcover tome at 3.2 x 24.8 x 35.6 centimetres.

People often ask if there is a catalogue of suitable details for Passivhaus construction. There isn’t one, at least not in English, that I am aware of. Of course, this might be because it is possible to build a Passivhaus with almost any construction system, so such a catalogue would be a huge undertaking. However, this book is the closest thing there is to such a catalogue.

The purpose of “Details for Passive Houses: A Catalogue of Ecologically Rated Constructions” is twofold; to provide an ecological evaluation of a range of Passivhaus-suitable construction details and to suggest alternatives that “illustrate the possibilities and limitations of ecologically motivated material selections.

The book contains 130 Passivhaus construction details, with assembly cross-sections and junction details. The details are beautifully illustrated to scale in four colours throughout.

Details for Passive Houses: A Catalogue of Ecologically Rated Constructions” is an excellent reference for successful Passivhaus construction detailing.

Successful Passivhaus Construction Details Cover

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This is a Passivhaus Basics blog post that gives an overview of a specific aspect of the Passivhaus Standard.

The international Passivhaus Standard is a clearly defined and rigorous standard for energy efficiency, comfort and quality assurance of buildings. Designing a building to achieve the standard requires detailed knowledge and a rigorous methodical approach to design and documentation. To ensure this happens, it is possible to train and qualify as a Certified Passivhaus Designer or Consultant.

The route to certification is the same for a designer or a consultant. It is only the individual’s prior qualifications and experience that determines if they qualify as one or the other. For clarity, this post will only refer to a Certified Passivhaus Designer, but for all intents and purposes, ‘designer’ is interchangeable with ‘consultant’ in this context.

A Certified Passivhaus Designer, regardless of their prior qualification, works across disciplines on a Passivhaus project. Their role integrates architecture, structure, building services, building science, energy modeling and construction detailing. They will at times both support and challenge the other designers on a Passivhaus Project.

The Certified Passivhaus Designer on a project doesn’t need to be completely independent. They can also be the architect, structural engineer, building services engineer, or another consultant on the team. And the same person fulfilling two roles does have advantages. However, in many cases combining two roles requires more time and work than one individual has available. Regardless, it is best if the Certified Passivhaus Designer is an integral part of the design team rather than just an occasional consultant.

The Passivhaus Building Certifier must be independent of the design team.

A Certified Passivhaus Designer brings the detailed knowledge and rigorous methodical approach needed to design buildings to the international Passivhaus Standard.

043 What is a Passivhaus Designer

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This blog post is a review of “The Passivhaus Designer’s Manual: A technical guide to low and zero energy buildings” published in October 2015 and edited by Christina J. Hopfe and Robert S. Mcleod. Until now, there hasn’t been an English language manual for Passivhaus Designers. Training courses include relevant teaching material, but it is only available for course attendees and makes the most sense in the context of the course. This book covers all the main topics of a Passivhaus Designer course in an accessible and technically detailed format.

It is intended to provide a technical reference on important topics that often require more detailed explanations than can be found in most introductory handbooks. It is assumed that those reading the book will already be familiar with the fundamental principles of low energy design.

It is a design-focussed manual, bringing the academic and practice-based knowledge of the long list of authors together into one volume. Suitable background information is provided for each topic, but the main thrust is towards practical application in designing Passivhaus, or low and ‘zero-energy’ buildings.

Passive buildings are not all about technology. Their greatest benefits are not in avoided costs and emissions but in quality of life. Why did people meeting around our dining room table stay alert and cheerful all day, than in an ordinary office, become sleepy and irritable in half an hour?
– Amory B. Lovins, Cofounder and Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute

The Passivhaus Designer’s Manual could easily be the textbook for a Passivhaus Designers course. It will certainly become the reference book of choice for many Passivhaus Designers and the source of self-study for many aspiring Passivhaus Designers

042 Passivhaus Designers Manual sm
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Where is all the timber needed to construct more Passivhaus buildings going to come from?

This was a question (paraphrased) asked by a person at a recent presentation I gave about the international Passivhaus Standard. They were clearly under the impression that it was easier / better / necessary to use a timber frame construction system to build to the standard.

I shouldn’t have been surprised since I was presenting on behalf of Architype, where I work. Architype are leaders in designing Passivhaus buildings and timber buildings, so the majority of the Passivhaus buildings I presented were timber construction.

It is a common misconception that timber is best for Passivhaus construction.

Ironically, there is also a misconception that ‘natural materials’ are not suitable for Passivhaus, therefore ruling out the use of timber.

Neither is true!

The international Passivhaus Standard is a performance standard: many different construction systems are possible.

041 Passivhaus Construction Not Just Timber
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