What is a passive house?

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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A passive house is one in which interior climate and temperature can be maintained without an active heating or cooling system. The certified standard, created by the Passivhaus Institut in Germany, goes beyond solar panels or alternate energy sources. To be certified as passive, buildings must meet certain criteria. 

Passive houses are among the most energy-efficient and eco-friendly options for homes. With energy savings as high as 90% compared to typical structures and 75% compared to new construction, passive structures reduce the energy needed to both cool and heat your home. Passive structures make use of shade, sunlight, and other internal and external temperature sources to eliminate the need for an active heating or cooling system.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building a passive house, our infographic shares how these structures work, so you can better plan the design of your next home

How does a passive house work?

Passive houses work by creating a comfortable interior temperature and climate that stays consistent without active heating or cooling. They do this in a few key ways, using high-quality insulation and ventilation as primary components.

Heated air inside a home often escapes through the path of least resistance, called a “thermal bridge.” Houses often lose heat through small cracks, inefficient windows, or poor insulation. A passive house seals these areas and removes the thermal bridge. Features such as super insulation and quality ventilation help prevent heat loss so homeowners can live comfortably while the house maintains its temperature. 

Passive houses also use “free heat” to warm the home. Free heat comes from things like body temperature, gas, ovens, computers, and light bulbs. This, combined with other passive ways to maintain a home’s temperature based on climate — like using shade to cool a home in a warmer climate — makes for a highly efficient indoor climate. 

Since a passive home requires an official certification, any home built to meet these criteria reaps the energy savings benefits. Features like space heating and cooling demand, energy demand, and airtightness are each measured and contribute to earning the certification. 

 how does a passive home work

Key features of a passive home include:

  • Super insulation: A layer of efficient insulation wraps around the entire building, including beneath the foundation and around basements, to reduce heat transfer from inside and outside.
  • Quality ventilation: Ventilation systems exchange moist air that may contain allergens for fresh air from outdoors. This helps maintain the temperature and humidity inside the home.
  • Free heating: Passive houses pass fresh exterior air through the ventilation system. When cold air enters the system, it is heated by warm air from the same system using free heat sources such as body temperature, gas, ovens, and computers.
  • Efficient windows: Windows can often be a source of lost hot or cold air. Triple-paned windows with insulated frames prevent this.
  • Airtight enclosures: Sealed construction prevents moist air from getting into the home, where it can impact air quality and even create mold.

Benefits of passive homes

Passive houses are not only great for the environment — they also benefit their occupants. From a quieter home to lower electric bills, here are some of the benefits of building or redesigning a home to be passive.

Reduced energy costs

One of the most appealing reasons to remodel or build a passive house is the lower energy costs. With the potential for a passive home to use 90% less energy than standard buildings, this also means lower energy bills. Because these homes heat and cool themselves without air conditioners or furnaces, monthly energy bills can be significantly lower. 

Increased comfort

Contrary to what many may think, comfort in passive houses actually can increase compared to standard construction. With a focus on insulation and high-performance ventilation, passive houses use energy sources inside the building, such as body heat, to maintain an even temperature throughout the space. 

Additionally, the difference between the temperature of doors or windows — which can often be cooler or warmer than the rest of the home — is consistent with the internal temperature of the rest of the home due to the quality of the insulation. 

Improved indoor air quality 

Passive houses are airtight, with a ventilation system that filters out pollen and allergens more quickly due to its efficiency. As a result, it also lets in far less dust as well, keeping the air fresh and free of pollutants and odors that may irritate those with allergies. As an added benefit, this makes for a quieter home!

To learn how it all comes together — from the components of a passive house to how each part leads to benefits in your day-to-day life — we’ve summed it up for you below.

 passive home design infographic

Though redesigning your home earn passive certification can take time, simple tweaks like changing your exterior house color or adding window overhangs can help reduce overall temperature loss in your home. Each of these efforts may make your home more energy efficient, with the added benefit of a comfortable and future-proofed forever home. As you make structural updates to your home, remember to update your home insurance policy to reflect any changes. 


Bau Technologies | Passivhaus | Passipedia | Passive House International 12