Silently combating highly publicized eco-building programs like LEED and Energy Star is Passive House, a voluntary standard for energy efficient buildings that humbly blows all other programs out of the water… The story of the Passivhaus began with a dialogue between Bo Adamson of Sweden and Wolfgang Feist of Germany in 1988.  It evolved into the conceptual construction of four row houses in Darmstadt, Germany two years later.  These puppies, pictured below, reported 90% less space heating energy than what was required for a standard new building of the time!

With several successful builds under its belt, Passivhaus became a bit more official in 1996 with its incorporation of both the ‘Economical Passive Houses Working Group’ and the Passivhaus-Institut in Darmstadt, which was created to promote, control, and certify the standard.  Since then, about 6,000 buildings have gone through the rigorous guidelines, most of which were constructed in Germany and Austria.  In 2006, the small town of Waldsee, Minnesota got America on the Passivhaus map with its certification of the BioHaus (below), an environmental living center at Concordia Language Villages… The center uses 85% less energy than comparable U.S. buildings.

So, how in the world can these buildings save up to 90% on energy consumption vs.
code?  Well, there’s a science to it and it breaks down like this:


Passive Solar Design:
Buildings are constructed to reduce surface area… Windows are oriented to the equator to maximize passive solar gain.

Buildings must meet required high R-Value for insulation… This could mean as much as 13″ of insulation might be needed in walls, 20″ in ceiling… Special focus on eliminating thermal bridges.
Mechanical heat recovery ventilation systems are employed to maintain air quality, and to recover sufficient heat to dispense with a conventional central heating system.

Advanced Window Technology:
Windows must meet required low U-Value… probably will have several, if not all of the following: triple pane, low-emissivity coating, argon or krypton gas fill, and good solar heat-gain coefficient.

Space Heating:
In addition to passive solar, dual purpose 800 to 1,500 Watt heating and/or cooling element integrated with the supply air duct of the ventilation system can be used… On-site renewables are also a great option.

Building envelopes under the Passivhaus standard are required to be extremely airtight compared to conventional construction.

Lighting and Electrical Appliances:
Low energy lighting like LED’s and super efficient appliances are generally used.


You’re probably thinking to yourself, “I’ve never even heard of Passive House… are there people in the states here who can actually build me one?”

The answer is yes, and the man with the plan is a good friend of mine… Tim Eian.  He recently left Minneapolis eco-firm Locus Architecture to start his own endeavor, TE Studio, with the ambition of bringing Passive House construction to the masses… He grew up in Germany absorbing all the good stuff and is one of the few with the credentials to rock it passive style… Rumor on the street is he just landed a project in North Minneapolis called Appleseed that is looking to go Passive… Check out his website by clicking the image below to get more info on him and the Passivhaus.

As Ferris Beuller once said: “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”



About Joshua Foss

Joshua is a leading voice for transformational change. He is the editor of Metro Hippie, co-founder and director of development of the Ecala Group, and adjunct faculty at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He is also an ambassador for the Living Building Challenge and is a frequent speaker at national conferences, trade shows and summits.