This is a guest post by Mike Duclos. He is a Certified Passive House Consultant and principal and founder of DEAP Energy Group, a consultancy providing a wide variety of deep energy retrofit, zero net energy, and Passive House related services.

This article is intended for the following readers:

  • Architects and other building industry professionals interested in incorporating Passive House design strategies and methods into their practice
  • Individuals considering building a Passive House or doing a deep energy retrofit

I teach a course which is an introduction to Passive House Design intended for those looking for hands-on learning about Passive House but not quite ready to invest in the Certified Passive House Consultant training. I’ll explain why.

Passive House is a response to the challenges of climate change in that it tightly constrains the amount of primary energy—energy consumed as the source fuel—and so annual CO2 generation. It also provides a very high level of thermal comfort and superior indoor air quality via a substantial ventilation air exchange rate, and can provide usable shelter in the event of grid failure – a.k.a ‘passive survivability.’

Using energy from the sun to heat our homes has long been a dream for those living in cold climates. The discipline called Passive House (or Passivhaus, as it is known in Germany) means designing a home that receives a large amount of the heat necessary to keep it comfortable from the sun—50% or more is not unusual.

A Passive House with its modest heating system turned off will typically remain habitable (think adding a hat and sweater) in even the coldest weather when neighbors are forced to abandon ship. Thermal comfort in a Passive House comes from ‘supplemental heating,’ a small amount of heat used during the very coldest days, or a string of cloudy days. A conventional heat distribution system is often not necessary.

Passive House design achieves this by careful attention to minimizing the mechanisms for heat loss, conduction, convection and radiation, and maximizing—and carefully controlling—solar gains. This extends to cooling, dehumidification, and domestic hot water design.

For me the most important single feature of Passive House design is that the designer’s attention is focused on all mechanisms of heat loss at a level of detail that is remarkable. This level of detail carries over into all aspects of a design, so clever, creative solutions to challenges emerge, including how to reduce the cost of the additional insulation and air sealing. So each design can be better than the last since continuous improvement is practiced.

This investment in up-front design is worth so much more than the initial cost of design, to me it is truly remarkable that this discipline is not more widely practiced in the U.S. Considering a new home to be a substantial long-term financial investment, such an up-front investment in design provides a very comfortable home with high indoor air quality and protects against energy price volatility and grid stability for the life of the building, creating a desirable legacy for society.

Here are two free lectures that illustrate some of the concepts covered in this article:

Read more about Mike’s full, 7-week course: