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“The principles of Passivhaus”

April 18, 2024

The principles of Passivhaus for the Modern Designer

In recent years, as concerns about climate change have rightly escalated, there has been a growing emphasis on sustainable architecture practices worldwide. Among these practices, the concept of Passivhaus design has gained significant traction as a design method that reduces energy consumption. Passivhaus offer a promising approach to achieving energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions in buildings, making them a focal point for architects seeking to create environmentally conscious structures.

At its core, Passivhaus design revolves around the idea of creating buildings that require minimal energy for heating and cooling, thereby drastically reducing their carbon footprint. Unlike contemporary buildings, which rely heavily on mechanical systems to regulate the temperature, Passive Houses utilise a combination of strategic design elements to maintain comfortable indoor conditions throughout the year. Hotter climate countries have used such methods throughout centuries within their architectural design.

One of the fundamental principles of Passivhaus design is a high-performance envelope with continuous insulation and minimising thermal bridging. This involves employing high levels of quality control on installation and meticulously sealing the building envelope to prevent heat loss or gain. By minimising thermal bridging, which occurs when heat travels through materials with high conductivity, Passive Houses can maintain stable indoor temperatures without excessive reliance on heating or cooling systems.

Circling back to the idea of sealing the building envelope, the priority is put on airtightness and controlled ventilation. By carefully implementing mechanical ventilation systems with heat recovery, Passive Houses can effectively regulate indoor air quality while minimizing energy loss. This not only ensures a healthy living environment but also reduces the need for traditional heating and cooling systems, further lowering energy consumption and associated costs.  In turn, these methods become viable solutions for achieving sustainability goals. Architects and developers across the country are embracing these principles in both residential and commercial projects, aiming to meet or exceed regulatory requirements while delivering comfortable and environmentally friendly spaces.

One notable example of Passive House design in the UK is the Oak Meadow Primary School in Wolverhampton. Designed to meet the stringent Passive House standards, the school incorporates advanced insulation, airtight construction, and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery to minimise energy demand while providing a brilliant learning environment for students.

Similarly, the Agar Grove Estate redevelopment in London represents a large-scale application of Passive House principles in social housing. The project aims to provide better comfort housing to Passive House standards while also reducing residents’ energy bills to alleviate fuel poverty.  The designers use a ‘fabric-first’ approach when designing, referring to the involvement of sustainability goals at the beginning of the project rather than just as an afterthought.

(Image credit: Architype)

Passivhaus design offers a compelling solution for addressing the challenges of climate change and energy consumption in the built environment and can be an integral design solution, which, if implemented early on, can make a bigger impact overall. It’s also a great practice in general for practices to adopt and not just to tick off a requirement.


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