I was first introduced to Passivhaus several year back when we decided to pursue it in the architect’s practice where I work. It seemed like the right step forward in so many ways. However, learning about the Passivhaus Standard and everything that is required for certification, presented many challenges. There were some technical challenges, but probably the biggest challenges were to the received wisdom that I held firmly onto at the time.

This somewhat tongue-in-cheek post explores some of those mindset challenges with the benefit of hindsight. It also explores some other mindset challenges that arise from delivering passivhaus architecture.

010 10 Things I hate About Passivhaus

1. I see Thermal Bridges Everywhere

I used to enjoy the rhythm of rafter ends projecting out around the eaves of a house. I admired timber and steel beams apparently gliding smoothly through external walls or floor to ceiling glazing.

No more! I can’t help but see the thermal bridging these details create, the resultant heat loss, material degradation risks and mould risks.

Artful architectural devices of structure and tectonic planes floating between the inside and outside only momentarily beguile me now. Then I remember the performance gap that rages on in the construction industry. And it stares me in the face. Passivhaus design requires thermal bridge free design, that’s one reason why it works.

Architects, you need to get more creative about expressing structure, tectonic planes and roof edges! You need to master integrated design.

2. I’ve Learnt to Love Mechanical Ventilation

I used to be a die-hard proponent of ‘natural ventilation.’ That is, manually operated ventilation through opening windows and doors that is dependent on the whims of the weather! Adding a fan and some ducts and filters into the equation was heresy and would surely consume more energy.

It took a lot to convince me that somehow mechanical ventilation could actually save energy. And on top of that that it could be healthier than ‘natural ventilation.’ I had associated mechanical ventilation with air-conditioning and all the downsides of re-circulated stale air that is cooled or heated. This isn’t passivhaus mechanical ventilation!

Passivhaus mechanical ventilation supplies only fresh air, nothing is re-circulated, and it gets filtered in the process. This improves the indoor air quality significantly.

Passivhaus mechanical ventilation recovers the heat from the air being extracted from the house. The system uses the recovered heat to pre-warm the incoming fresh air. This saves more energy than if cold outside air is brought directly inside and the heating system then used to re-heat the spaces up to a comfortable temperature again.

Passivhaus mechanical ventilation with heat recovery provides consistent fresh air, not dependent on the whims of the weather. It is fresh, clean, healthy and warm. And it is energy efficient.

3. I Can’t Just Tick Boxes to Deliver a Sustainable Building

I love living roofs (green and brown) and they can bring many benefits to the local environment of a building, and the wider environment. A living roof used to be a hallmark of a “sustainable building”, and sometimes still is.

Similarly, I love composting, it’s definitely a good thing for the environment. So including compost bins in a kitchen design encourages and enables the residents to start composting. Again, definitely a good thing.

This list could go on and on…!

However, if a building has a living roof, or includes composting bins, and is still an uncomfortable, energy guzzling monster, is it really a sustainable building? It might tick certain ‘sustainability’ boxes, but it’s not an integrated design.

Quite frankly, we should be questioning if this type of building is acceptable at all in our day and age. Regardless of climate change, regardless of resource and energy scarcity, surely any decently designed building should be comfortable and use the minimum amount of energy to be so? We have the technology, the knowledge, the materials and the skills.

Architecture needs to change, and ticking “sustainable” boxes isn’t the answer. Integrated design and buildings to the Passivhaus Standard that deliver excellent comfort using minimal energy are the way forward.

4. I Can’t Hide Poor Details

You know those details where a stud wall has a whole lot of timber around a corner or around a window opening? Or the ones that changed on site and looks nothing like your drawing? Where far more steel and concrete ended up within the insulation zone than you expected?

You know it’s a thermal bridge. It contributes to the performance gap, it increase risk of material degradation and mould formation. It might even be contributing to high asthma rates.

But it’s OK isn’t it? It passes the requirements for the building regulations or code, or at least gets signed off.

Actually it is not OK.

And when you start designing and delivering passivhaus buildings you soon realise that you can’t hide this stuff. You can’t get away with it. Not in the design and not on site. That is one of the key reasons why certification to the Passivhaus Standard is so important. Quality assurance.

5. I’m Not Seduced by Sexy Fully Glazed Buildings

Who doesn’t love a funky glass tower following the latest parametric fashion? Sliced, diced and twisted about to suit fashion and an architect’s imagination. Who doesn’t love pristine crystalline fully glazed buildings? I certainly used to!

Now I see these as energy guzzling high cholesterol buildings using far more energy than is equitable or necessary! They carry a huge risk of overheating in summer, freezing in winter, and of being simply uninhabitable in a power cut. Or a reduction in available energy supplies. They are iced-tea buildings that offsetting poor performance with technology and increased energy consumption.

We’ve got to ask ourselves, why do we expect our mobile phone batteries to last longer and longer each generation, but not care about the energy consumption of buildings? And I mean really care, as in care enough to do something about it. To design and deliver each generation of buildings to perform better.

Is architecture the only industry where we use our generation’s better technology, not to make better performing buildings, but instead to make habitable and functional, buildings that perform worse than previous generations?

With passivhaus we can do the opposite. We can use our generation’s technology and knowledge, and all our creativity to design better buildings that use less by design.

6. I’ve Learnt to Accept (High Performance) uPVC Windows

I used to hate uPVC windows. After all, they used to be cheap and nasty, unattractive, poor performing and not maintenance-free as claimed. Aside from this, PVC is a product of the petroleum industry that is arguably toxic to humans and the environment when it is produced and used, and at the end of the product’s life.

Actually my view on this hasn’t changed much and I still don’t love uPVC windows.

However, I do accept that high quality, high performance uPVC triple glazed windows are a cost effective choice in some situations for a passivhaus building. I hope in these circumstances that the excellent passivhaus ventilation system removes any airborne toxic particles from the indoor environment. (Of course I might be wrong!)

Put it this way, I’d rather live with this than with poorly performing buildings contributing excessively to climate change.

This has been a hard lesson to learn though and I do believe the Red List approach is best and should be widely adopted.

7. I Bore People Talking About Building Performance

You would never have guessed would you? I mean, 1400 words into another blog post about passivhaus could be getting pretty boring!

I hope this isn’t the case. And thank you for reading this far!

However, I do have to admit that since getting started on passivhaus, building performance has become much more of a passion for me than it ever was before.

And I’ll tell you why.

Passivhaus puts architecture, and architects, front and centre of the process of designing and delivering buildings once again.

Passivhaus is about integrated design. It’s about bringing all the different aspects of building design back together. I had often felt quite powerless before. As an architect I often felt my design work was seen as frivolous, just about aesthetics. And that sustainability was seen as a nice-to-have bolt-on. That our job was just to deliver the drawings. And our designs were vulnerable to severe compromise at any moment by the design and construction process.

Passivhaus blows this away. I feel empowered by passivhaus. I feel I have reclaimed my job as an architect, as an integral, vital part of the design and delivery process.

8. I Feel Guilty Delivering Buildings That are “Only” Compliant

This is the downside of the previous lesson, feeling guilty about delivering buildings that are only Building Regulations compliant. Not every project I work on is to the Passivhaus Standard unfortunately. And I accept that this is where the industry is currently. And I’m doing what I can to change this.

I can’t help myself now though; I know a building that is just ‘compliant’ will not deliver on what it promises. It will contribute to the performance gap. It will contribute more than necessary to climate change, and not through any fault of the occupants.

I also know that my passivhaus knowledge and experience means than every building that I work on will be better than average, regardless of whether or not it is a certified Passivhaus Standard building. I know how to design, detail and delivery a much better performing building regardless of whether or not it is a passivhaus building. And the same is true for other passivhaus architects.

So although I feel guilty, I know that I am doing what I can to change the world for the better through changing architecture.

9. I Argue With Building Services Engineers

Firstly, my apologies in advance to any building services engineers who are reading this. I apologise both for arguing with you if we’ve worked together, and for what I’m about to write.

Working on passivhaus buildings involves a much better working knowledge of building services than most architects possess. I have learnt so much that I had no idea about previously. Or at least previously I just took the building services engineer’s word for!

And this is where the issue arises, and I know this is a massive generalisation; building services engineers often work in a particular way. This is a product of their education, training and work experience no doubt. However, the way they work is often “the way they always do” and based on designing mechanical, electrical and water systems.

Unfortunately this often doesn’t equate to designing a building as a complete integrated system. This requires knowledge and experience of building physics. And crucially, it requires a willingness to design with the intention of reducing plant and equipment, not just finding the best equipment to specify for the same design as usual.

So sometimes I have got into an argument with a building services engineer over this. Usually where they want to do the same “as they always do” and I want the building to work as a complete integrated design with less plant and equipment and the architecture doing more of the work.

10. I Can’t Go Back. Passivhaus is the “Red Pill”

It is true. As several of the previous lessons allude to, once I started designing and delivering passivhaus buildings, I couldn’t go back

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth, nothing more.
– Morpheus, The Matrix

Once you have some insight and understanding into how passivhaus actually works, your eyes have been opened wide to the reasons why buildings perform badly. You know architecture can be better. You know architecture doesn’t have to contribute excessively towards climate change.

Wrapping Up

That concludes my list of “10 Things I Hate About Passivhaus”. Thank you once again for reading this far! I hope you have found it educational and perhaps a little entertaining along the way too.

And please don’t be frightened. Educating yourself and starting to work on passivhaus buildings is exciting and satisfying. It can bring a great sense of meaning and fulfilment to your work, it’s not just for Treehuggers and Energy Geeks. It’s what the world needs.


This blog post has now been translated in other languages –

The team at the Hellenic Passive House Institute have translated it into Greek. It can be found here: Τα 10 πράγματα που μισώ στο ΠΑΘΗΤΙΚΟ ΚΤΙΡΙΟ.

The team at Passive House Latvija have translated it into Latvian. It can be found here: 10 iemesli, kāpēc es neciešu pasīvās ēkas.

I understand that there are some people at work translating it into French also. And If you wish to translate it into another language just drop me an email to let me know.

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44 thoughts on “10 Things I Hate About Passivhaus!

  1. I enjoyed that. Clearly written from the heart. Glad you took the red pill and chose the matrix sorry the Passivhaus. I do think that once you get the bug you keep asking yourself “why would anyone want to to it the old way?”

  2. Those of us who took the red pill will find this post very funny. Thanks for the laughs, Elrond.

    I suspect that those who took the blue pill won’t have a clue what you’re talking about, and even less interest in finding out. For them, compliance is as good as it gets .. on a good day … with a competent builder … and an indulgent client. They survive on patronage, we survive on performance.

    • Thanks Stefan, I’ll take that in the spirit of the blog post so I think it is a compliment! 🙂

  3. I’m stood in a darkened room with Morpheus offering me pills of each colour.

    Fabulous blog Elrond, but answer me this please:

    Does Passivhaus motivate the wider lifestyle changes the other standards aim to stimulate, or is it correctly regarded as an energy standard that diverts attention from the broader implications of One Planet Living?

    I agree with point 9 in particular; most building services engineers are conditioned to fit your stereotype.

    Notable by their absence are clients, who determine whether truly integrated design happens, or not!

    We building performance professionals all have a role to play in encouraging our clients not to revert to type.

    • Thanks Dan, I appreciate your comment.

      Reduction in energy consumption must underlie all “wider lifestyle changes” and “One Planet Living”. The Passivhaus Standard is focussed on delivering a radical reduction in energy consumption for buildings while providing the highest standard of comfort. And it does deliver. It doesn’t distract or divert attention from the other issues though and is complimentary to other standards

      Clients certainly do have an important role to play, that is a good point. However, clients don’t always know what is possible and how to achieve it, so it often is up to the construction industry to educate our clients and to lead the way, as you mention.

      • Thank you Elrond.

        I have difficulty with the binomial concept in such a complex world, and am characteristically inclined to take both pills and deal with the purple hued consequences.

        As a client in our own extension project at home, I am pushing everyone else to extend their horizons and look at going beyond the compliance only strategy we find ourselves constrained to in our professional lives.

        But as we’re only adding 40sqm over two storeys, to our 1965 end terrace 88sqm home, even EnerPHit puts others off.

        I’m starting to feel like a hypocrite for not having made a strong enough case to the agent with CAD software at home, or the domestic agent fearing me frittering meagre resources for little long-term gain.

        • Working within those constraints and achieving EnerPHit could be a big challenge so I wouldn’t feel like a hypocrite – I am sure you are learning useful things from the process and maybe from that you will be able to help others.

  4. Thanks Elrond that was AWESOME!


    Fiona McKenzie
    Founding Director
    FB superpodhome

  5. very interesting but…
    I read this in greek, thanks to the team HPHI.
    I am one of those who took the “red pill”. I agree in general, but all this is over estimated in certain climate condition. For example in Greece, we live in houses with a great area of semi-enclosed spaces and the doors and windows are most of the year open. A thermal bridge or less insulation or less effective ventilation has not so much meaning for us. Its more important designing a house protected from the sharp sun and wind and creating spaces were people can enjoy fresh air and uplifting bright gatherings! We need to concentrate in good healthy architecture more than copying the cold climate implementation technics.

    • Thanks Natassa, that is a really great comment. You are so right about the emphasis in Greece being different to places with colder climates. The solutions alway need to be climate specific and so there will be different mindset changes needed in different climates.

      • Natassa – I’m a British architect but my partner is from Athens so we spend a lot of time there, and I waste a lot of time thinking about and discussing the differences between the two housing stocks and cultures generally …. (Elrond – you think you’re boring!? – great article btw).

        I’d say you’re absolutely right about the summer and spring, doors open, solar shading, fresh air movement, ‘uplifting’ family social spaces etc. However, in my experience, this doesn’t remove the fact that these same poorly or completely un-insulated concrete tower blocks (within which the majority of Athenians dwell) ‘perform terribly’, they are bitterly freezing for much of the year and in summer are boiling hot – resulting in air conditioning units on hot or cold accordingly throughout the year. Add to this the crisis and unaffordability of running wet heating systems, and the Greek/Mediterranean habit of ‘airing’ the apartment daily (whatever the weather) and you get a costly and inefficient system.

        On our last visit the suburban areas of the city reeked (charmingly in my mind) of burning wood (much of which had a decidedly furniture-like smell) as I understand for many people this is becoming the most viable method of heating? I suspect these difficult to heat buildings, in this sense, are not creating the good healthy environments your refer to?

        It seems that the biggest challenge is retro upgrading the fabric of these buildings whilst also considering how to address the ‘fresh air’ requirements which are somewhat cultural. In that regard it’s the same issue I seem to come up against when discussing passive house with potential clients.

        Love to hear others thoughts, especially as my partner and I are currently designing our own house and are arguing over the validity of MVHR when the windows will all be opened every morning (whatever the weather) in order to air the house! 🙂

        • Very interesting thoughts and insights Oliver, thanks for sharing them here.

          With regards to your own house, MVHR is still entirely valid and you can still open windows to air the house every morning all year round. The MVHR will take care of delivering fresh and comfortable air the rest of the time when the windows aren’t open. (Cold evenings and nights, for example, but equally very warm evenings and nights) You may find after a while that you don’t open the windows every morning as the air is already fresh and cool enough so there is no need to “air the house”. Of course if it is a very strong cultural habit it may never change! 🙂

          It’s actually a good idea in the UK (And many other places) for a passivhaus residence to rely on the MVHR for background ventilation day to day, but to actually use (manually) opening windows for purge ventilation which is effectively what the morning “airing the house” is. And you would normally purge in the early morning or late evening when the air temperature is relatively cooler. (Although maybe not normally in the winter in the UK!)

  6. I might even show this to clients – neat independent corroboration of what I’m prob saying to them.

  7. Good post hitting it spot on, Elrond.

    But I wonder will your hate ever transform into love?



  8. Brilliant Post,

    I am yet to make the choice on which pill, although i know my mind is already set!

  9. Great post!

    I was curious to see the weak points of Passivhaus from an architect’s point of view and I’m “glad” to see that if there is, it is about the difficulties to implement it. So glad we have true believers working and fighting for it.

    Thank you very much.

  10. Elrond – very enjoyable article. In reading the comments, I had 2 thoughts. In regard to the Greco climate/tradition – I recently read a comment that recommended designing/building for the extremes of the regions’ climates, not the temperate days/months. This will impact projected cost/benefit savings (compared to regional traditional methods) but will provide a more realistic home ownership cost while providing better comfort/savings in those extreme conditions. Second is that of “natural ventilation” vs MVHR. It seems that the advocates of “natural ventilation” completely disregard both the home security impacts of leaving windows open (often exacerbated in high-density population areas) and the reduced efficacy of this method in providing adequate ventilation to ALL habitable interior rooms (vs those rooms that have better air flow). In fact, reliance on a robust MVHR system would allow for smaller fenestration resulting in lower building costs.

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for sharing you very astute comments. And you’re absolutely right people often don’t consider the security impacts of leaving windows open at all! Nor the potential air and sound pollution!

      Best wishes, Elrond

  11. Regarding the quote in paragraph 3: It would be useful to ponder whether “integrated design and buildings to the Passivhaus Standard that deliver excellent comfort using minimal energy are the way forward” is a genuine integrated desing and building. Focusing only on operating energy consumed and partly on the quality of internal environment can it realy be considered an integrated/holisitc approach? I believe it needs more than that. And that’s a lot. Just only to mention within the energy tick boxes that there are no boxes to tick for energy usage during construction, embodied energy of materials used, location of building (the mega transport energy used to travel back and forth on building). Finally, every Standard, by default, has boxes to tick. Some Standards has fewer boxes and some Standards have more boxes. The Standard discussed here has few boxes to tick with raised benchmarks. Is that realy an integrated or hollistic approach?

    • Thanks for your comment Pantelis.

      In the context of Point 3, “integrated design” means taking a design approach where the various ‘sustainability’ aspects are inherent within the design process, as opposed to designing something inherently ‘unsustainable’ and then adding some technology or token green gestures afterwards.

      You are right that the Passivhaus Standard is a measure for operational energy performance and indoor comfort, so in a way it could be said that it only “ticks those boxes”. It doesn’t measure embodied energy of materials or construction, or location related energy use, or many many other things. I would agree that it couldn’t be described as a holistic sustainability standard and I’m not sure anyone would claim that it is. This isn’t a fault though in my view, as there is incredibly power in having a standard that is focussed on high priority aspects, gets those right and actually delivers.

      Coming back to integrated design, the passivhaus design and certification process requires (to be successfully achieved) that energy, comfort, architecture, engineering, and more, be approached in an integrated manner. And as it is a rigorous performance standard, it really is about the design, construction and quality assurance process, based on evidence, not about ticking any boxes.

      Please don’t misunderstand me, I also agree that there needs to be a lot more than just passivhaus. I explain more of my thinking around this in my manifesto which I invite you to read.

      Best wishes, Elrond

      • Dear Elrond,
        Your clarification is robust within the context of Passivehaus design, and the need for integrated approach as you quote is so fundamental. On the other hand it is important how one defines sustainability and on what basis are high priorities attributed within the context of sustainability. That said considering the generic definition of sustainability within the Brutland report (mentioned on you manifesto) one can easily attribute another issue/category of Health & Wellbeing as a high priority as well. This category, which manifests the social pillar of sustainability or the anthropocentric approach in design, is currently a high priority on sustainable design surpassing in priority energy on ustainability mature countries. A fresh report from the WGBC (Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices) highlights all the benefits including also the potential of financial benefits that easily can outperform the energy savings of a building (even on a passivehaus standard). The beauty and the challenge of sustainability is that in real life one has to combine energy, health & wellbeing and more issues categories (such as water, waste, pollution, materials etc) that by default interact with each other, sometimes favorably and sometimes unfavorably. In this voyage of sustainability I perceive integrated design or even better the holistic approach as one that results to the best balance between a complex interacting set of components. In simple words getting the balance right.
        By all means, and as an advocate ,admirer and graduate of Physics, I understand and do recognize the rigor and high performance of the energy component of the Pasivehaus standard. However, on a sustainable context energy represents a fraction of the solution. After all buildings are made and exist for humans.
        Kind regards,

        • Dear Pantelis,
          Thanks for continuing the conversation. I’m not sure where you are reading any reference to the Brundtland Report in my manifesto? I deliberately stayed away from the term ‘sustainable development’.
          Your points about health and well-being are very important ones. Maybe you aren’t aware of the positive contribution the Passivhaus Standard makes toward occupant health and wellbeing though? The standard really is about excellent conditions for comfort and health as much as it is about reducing energy consumption.
          I think I understand where you are coming from in your statement that “energy represents a fraction of the solution.” However, all other aspects of sustainability, whether focussed on the environmental, financial or social, are underpinned by energy. So everything that contributes to reducing energy consumption (while not compromising other aspects) is a priority in achieving any aspect of sustainability.
          Best wishes, Elrond

          • I am aware that certain issues in Health & Wellbeing are not addressed in the Passivehaus Standard. Namely, daylight, view out, glare control, VOCs emissions, lighting levels, microbial contamination, acoustic comfort etc.
            Who or what standard defines what is not compromising when the Passivehaus Standard does not even address a wealth of issues.The energy consumption? And is “not compromising” in all other issues an acceptable performance in the name of energy? I am afraid your perception about sustainability that all other aspects are underpinned by energy is totally wrong.

  12. When I get the chance to go back to the UK and I see residential constructions, especially in North of Scotland, my wife must be at her wits end, as I am querying every house and thinking, (outloud) surely they must be constructing to PH standards?
    My red pill is well and truly digested.

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