Understanding Passive Homes
The construction industry is continually evolving toward new styles, techniques and using innovative materials that are revolutionising the entire activity of the sector. In this day and age of innovation and looking to make homes more energy efficient, one new tendency is on the rise called passive housing or ecologically designed homes.
These structures are intelligently designed and focused on reaching almost zero energy consumption as well as using materials that have a reduced impact on the environment. They seek to take advantage of natural resources by using passive systems such as thermal insulation or solar heat gain which lead to a reduction in energy consumption from about 60% to 90% in comparison with conventional homes. In the construction process, environmental characteristics are taken into account to ensure that the home is being constructed as sustainable as possible. Passive housing also looks to improve the reduction of CO2 emissions, so the materials used in the construction of energy efficient buildings should leave a minimal carbon footprint by fully taking advantage of light energy.
The concept of passive homes within the construction industry brings to light the growing concerns that does not go unnoticed, such as for global sustainability, energy efficiency and a long-term plan for saving resources. All of this without sacrificing comfort or design, which is also very important for many costumers.
Five Criteria for Passive Homes
Not all sustainable housing follows the norms of energy efficient or passive housing. These buildings should follow the criteria in line with those established for the German Passivhaus — a construction standard that appeared at the end of the 80s. Therefore, the intent is to build homes that achieve a maximum level of comfort by combining high tech materials that ensure building quality as well as a significant reduction in energy consumption.
- Thermal insolation: One of the benefits of this construction standard is that the buildings itself are capable of providing thermal well-being without or only with a minimal level of energy in the building, in other words they do not require any conventional form of heating. The result is the maximisation of energy efficiency. For this to be possible, the building is constructed with walls that do not contain thermal bridges, that overcome low temperatures and prevent heat loss. The principal function of insolation is to take full advantage of the interior temperature of the home without influence from the temperature outside.
- Quality doors and windows: doors and windows are just two of the elements that make air flow possible and as such, influence the inner temperature of a building. To adjust to the standard of a passive house, these elements should have a triple panel insulating glazing, low emissions lining, air seals, window frames that are adapted to the cut and thermal heating, etc. These structures help to both stop the flow of heat and they also have a high coefficient of solar heat gain.
- Ventilation systems: The quality of the air indoors is another indicator of efficiency in a passive home. Impenetrability may have implications on the entering of fresh air, which is essential for living a healthy life. For this reason, ventilation systems are key for these types of construction. A high quality system not only considerably reduces operational waste in any building, it also guarantees adequate flow of fresh air.
- Taking advantage of internal sources: In addition to using passive solar gain, passivhaus buildings extensively use the intrinsec heat from internal sources such as the residual heat from lighting, appliances and other electronic devices. They also take advantage of body heat from both people and animals in the building. On average, a person emits heat equivalent to 100 watts of radiated thermal energy. It is essential to eliminate thermal bridges, which is why it is important to consider and combat, if possible, the points where heat escapes throughout the house. Thermal insulation should be continuous and without interruption to act as a seal to avoid heat escaping.
- Lighting and appliances: Another method of minimising energy consumption involves choosing appropriate appliances and taking advantage of natural light. Designing a system of sustainable lighting uses low energy consumption sources such as LED light bulbs or an organic light-emitting diode (OLED). It is also possible to use home accessories that are equipped with photovoltaic cells, timers, movement detectors that help to control light and electricity consumption.
If you are looking to build while still maintaining high levels of comfort, efficient energy consumption, consistent interior temperature and most importantly to care for the environment, opting for an energy-efficient and passive house is a great option. Although it may be a large investment, you will be reimbursed with medium and long-term benefits and meanwhile you are reducing the impact of human contamination on the planet.