Architect and writer Lloyd Alter is arguing for Passivhaus design as the minimum standard for residential construction, based on a comprehensive assessment of the first home of its kind nearly 30 years after it was built.
“Unlike the fancy solar houses of the seventies, a Passivhaus design is pretty simple, dependable, and durable,” Alter writes. “When you take a simple, ‘boxy but beautiful’ design, a carefully detailed building envelope, and quality construction, then Passivhaus can keep delivering energy savings for decades.”
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The approach “has been proven to work over the long term, it is durable and dependable, and it locks in the savings in energy and carbon, now and pretty much forever,” he adds. So “if we are serious about climate and carbon, then we should just do it.”
The durability study focused on the first-ever Passivhaus dwelling, built in Darmstadt, Germany for physicist Dr. Wolfgang Feist in 1990. It was always intended as a test bed, Alter writes, and has been subject to continuous performance monitoring.
Alter traces the study findings on the building’s exterior façade, its successful use of a non-ventilated roof (a success that Alter says he did not foresee), its triple-glazed windows, high levels of insulation, and heat recovery ventilator.
“With the investigation of this prototype building, combining both typical masonry and lightweight structures, after a 25-year period of normal use, it has been confirmed that the solutions based on the passive house concept offer a path to sustainable construction with a good life cycle balance,” the study concluded. “The energy consumption is negligible, stable over time, and, in addition, the durability of the components and the building is prolonged, including excellent indoor air quality and comfort.”
Which means that “the passive house concept assures significantly lower life cycle costs,” concluded passive solar architect Justin Bere. “In addition, it is easy to have full renewable energy coverage in such a passive house leading to a really robust, risk-reducing, cost-effective, and sustainable solution.”
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