The backyard patio of a passive house

Passive homes are designed to use and convert solar energy. During winter, they use solar energy to warm the house; during summer, they cool down all indoor spaces. 

However, as with anything else, passive homes come with their own advantages and disadvantages.

The following sections will explain the pros and cons in depth. We’ll also dive into some other important factors you should consider if you’re interested in building a passive home. 

So, without further ado, let’s get started!

What Are the Pros and Cons of Passive Homes?

Some advantages of passive homes include lower energy costs and design flexibility, airtightness, extreme comfort, HRV compliance, and constant dryness. But, on the other hand, they’re also expensive to build and difficult to locate.

Now let’s consider each of these benefits and drawbacks in greater detail.

Pros of Passive Homes

Passive structures offer many additional benefits beyond the advantages mentioned above.

Some of these benefits include:

Passive Homes Use Less Energy

A passive house reduces energy costs by 70–80% because it is constructed with insulating materials and uses solar energy to generate heat. 

Therefore, you won’t need a fireplace, heaters, boilers, or other energy-intensive heating systems since the house will constantly be at the ideal temperature.

A solar panel installed on the roof would drastically lower the energy cost. The house uses the sun’s heat to insulate itself from the cold throughout the winter. 

Fisheye lens of a solar panel array on a rufous clay tile roof

This heating is possible in three different ways:

  • Convection – heat transfer through air and water. For example, switching on an electric fan in a passive house will distribute the heat throughout the building.
  • Conduction – heat is transfered from one item to another. For example, the heat is absorbed by the walls, transferred to the floor, and then transferred to your feet. Every item in the house picks up the heat.
  • Radiation – direct heat absorption by thermal mass, such as walls, windows, floors, etc. When you are close to them, you can feel their warmth.

The house reduces heat absorption in the summer to remain cool. You can reduce heat absorption by installing a shade or shutter on the south-facing windows because your home’s south side absorbs sunlight.

A Trombe wall is a potential solution. Unlike in winter, when the light shines from the side, it comes down directly in the summer. Therefore the shade will reflect the sun’s upward-facing rays.

Closeup on the gap between a Trombe wall and exterior south-facing windows in a passive solar home
Courtesy of Mr Bim Architects

Custom Design Possibilities

There are no specific design requirements while building passive homes. The design of your home is entirely up to you in terms of scale and style.

Passive houses weren’t very common in the past because they were always considered unattractive. Manufacturers, however, now offer a variety of elegant designs. 

As a result, your passive house can take on the appearance of a glass house, an opulent royal brick structure, or an ancient masterpiece. In addition to picking your preferred design, you can use any building material. For example, you can decide to construct with wood, blocks, glass, etc.

You Can Remodel Old Buildings Into Passive Homes

As long as it’s properly situated, you can convert your existing house into a passive one. The only additional work required involves remodeling and window replacement. However, before moving on, you should get advice from an experienced passive home builder.

Passive Homes Are Airtight

Passive homes are airtight. There is no doubt that this is a benefit, despite some arguments to the contrary. However, it is vital to keep your home airtight at all times to avoid heat loss, which can lower the efficiency of your passive house.

Passive houses receive their heat from the sun. For this reason, it is necessary to seal the windows and doors entirely because the heat will escape through any openings in your doors and windows.

A homeowner applies window caulk to the bottom sill on a window's interior.

Passive Homes Are Comfortable

Everyone who lives in a passive home finds it to be pretty comfortable. All year long, you experience warmth as the house warms up in the winter and cools down in the summer.

A passive house maintains a constant temperature of 68°F (20°C) in the winter and 77°F (25°C) in the summer. A passive home has triple-glazed windows and walls at least 6″ thick (15.24 cm). These help heat be absorbed and stored so it can be adequately released.

The solid construction of passive homes makes them quiet and peaceful. They’re also soundproof, preventing sound from entering or leaving the house. Without worrying about outside noise, you will have no trouble falling asleep at any time of day or night.

The temperature of your house won’t change if you open your windows. Once the windows and doors are closed, the temperature returns to normal.

Passive Houses Are HRV-Compliant

All certified passive homes are heat recovery ventilation-compliant (HRV). Therefore, the air inside and outside is constantly fresh. As a result, your home maintains its air quality even if you leave it locked up for weeks or months. 

Its HRV system refreshes the air in the house without releasing the heat. It also has an air filter that filters the incoming air. This system reduces air pollution and keeps the air clean. People with respiratory issues will benefit from this air system.

A closeup of the exchange mechanism of an ERV

Passive Homes Don’t Allow Dampness

If you’ve ever visited a passive home, you’ve probably noticed that it has a clean, fresh scent. This type of structure retains its freshness even if you travel and lock it up for a long time. It never gets humid or becomes moist. Because of this constant freshness, you hardly ever see mold or mildew on the walls.

Cons of Passive Homes

Passive houses also have several drawbacks. It would be best if you also considered these disadvantages before building or acquiring a passive house.

Expensive Construction

Constructing passive homes is nearly 10% more expensive than traditional buildings because thermal materials are required, and you must build on a site with enough sunlight.

Using professionals to build will cost even more. You can reduce expenses by building some components of the house by yourself or with assistance from friends to reduce the construction cost. Although a passive house will cost more to build, the advantages and reduction in energy costs will exceed the extra expense.

Special Maintenance Knowledge Required

A passive house is not the ideal solution for someone who knows very little about its function. That’s because passive houses require maintenance and attention.

For instance, you need to know when to open or close the shutters, when to change the air filters, or when to turn up the ventilation system. You may experience significant problems with the house sooner rather than later if you don’t understand how a passive house works.

A homeowner replaces the Filtrete Air Filter MPR 1500 in her home's energy-efficient furnace

So, if you’re serious about creating a passive house, you should get all the necessary education to help you manage and maintain it adequately.

Passive Homes Don’t Fit in Every Location

You cannot construct a passive house anywhere. It must be constructed in a location that allows uninterrupted sunshine to reach the south side of the home. In some big cities, this might be a problem.

It would also help if you built with the future in mind. You may eventually use the south side for construction, or a tree may develop there, blocking sunlight. Your house won’t work well if either of these things occurs. A passive house is, therefore, best suited for the countryside.

Internal Noise Concerns

A significant drawback of passive homes is internal noise, particularly if kids are present. Because it’s airtight, noise can’t enter or leave a passive house. In passive structures, every tiny noise is audible throughout the entire building. To reduce the noise, you’ll need to install sound-deadening materials.

Remodeling an Old Home Into a Passive Home Is Expensive

Modifying your old home into a passive building can be very expensive. For example, you can install triple-glazed windows and insulating materials in your old house, but it will be too costly to construct a heating and cooling system.

Building a passive house from the ground up is more straightforward than turning an existing home into one. You practically have to demolish the house to finish the renovation.

To create an airtight house, you must modify the walls, windows, doors, and other openings where air can enter. That’s because heat will escape from the house via the walls and doors if your home isn’t airtight, and unfiltered air will enter.

A couple of homeowners installing a window inside their home

Moreover, the house’s location in terms of sunlight exposure will pose a major issue. Regardless of what you do, nothing will change if you don’t build your home in a location where it receives direct sunshine on its south side.

Passive Homes Must Meet Standards

Your home must adhere to specific requirements to be certified as a passive house. For instance, its annual energy usage must not exceed a specified threshold. 

You shouldn’t use the energy for other purposes, like running appliances. In addition, your house must pass the blower door test to assess the level of air tightness.

Passive houses are built differently and based on individual preferences, so the analysis carried out by a passive house certifying body can differ.

Are Passive Houses Worth It?

Although the design of passive homes depends on individual preferences, they are generally worth the cost. 

Passive structures are always well-lit, filled with constant fresh air, maintain a comfortable temperature, and are serene—you rarely notice what is happening outside due to the lack of external noise and temperature concerns.

Your energy expenses will also be substantially lower, and you may use the savings to pay for other necessities. In addition, knowing your anticipated energy costs allows you to organize your paycheck. 

Tips for Living in a Passive House

Passive homes are worthy investments, but you must maintain them to get the best value for your money. Here are some maintenance tips for your passive home.

  • Ensure there are no gaps through which air or heat can escape. A passive house is to be as airtight as a container. Don’t puncture holes in the wall. If you must seal all sides of it shut.
  • Change the exhaust and fresh air filter annually. It will guarantee fresh air flow at all times.
  • If you must make any internal changes, seek the advice of an expert. Embarking on modifications on your own may cause you problems in the future.
  • You can open your windows if the weather is friendly to help air circulation. You should turn off the air ventilation system. Once you close the windows, turn it on again.
a window being cracked open showing a person's hand on the handle
  • You can hang wet clothes or plant flowers around the house if the air seems too dry, improving the surrounding humidity.
  • If you notice the house overheating, close the shutters to lower the temperature.
  • Clean your HRV every 5-6 months. Doing this will ensure you don’t have to change it regularly. A passive house is easy to maintain. You only have to change the filters, which aren’t expensive.

Factors To Consider Before Building a Passive House

Passive homes are constructed differently from non-passive homes. Here are some crucuial considerations if you want to build a passive home.

Construction Material

The walls of a passive house should be at least 6″ (15.24 cm) thick. They should also be covered with thermal insulation. The windows should be double or triple-glazed for extra thickness and air tightness. One thing you cannot compromise on when building a passive house is air tightness.

Location

Passive houses work primarily with direct sunlight. Because the sun rises from the east and sets to the west, you must build your house facing the north or south for direct sunlight. The location and position you choose for your passive home can significantly affect its efficiency, so make sure to keep this consideration in mind.

The interior of a passive house with the sun shining in brightly through a floor-to-ceiling set of windows

Arrangement of the Rooms

The way you arrange your rooms is also essential. Separate your wet rooms from your dry rooms. 

Wet rooms like the bathroom, laundry, kitchen, etc., should be closely built together to help with plumbing and connections while reducing overall costs.

Final Thoughts

Passive homes can save up to 70–80% in energy costs, maintain a comfortable interior temperature throughout the year, block out noise, and allow for custom design.

Passive dwellings might require some maintenance from time to time. However, although they cost a lot to build, they’re inexpensive to maintain and will save you a lot of money in the long term.

However, location is a significant challenge, as you can’t build passive homes anywhere. Instead, you must construct them in an area with ample sunlight, often on the south side of the house.

Sources

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