The idea of passive house design isn’t new. It was first promoted in the early 1990s.
But the concept — virtually airtight buildings, heavily insulated and using triple-glazed windows, requiring little energy for heating or cooling — has yet to capture the public’s imagination. Part of the problem may be people’s lack of exposure to a passive house. There just aren’t that many to visit.
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“Unless you can show the public the projects under construction, then stand in it when it’s finished, I think it’s hard to understand the passive house,” says Julie Torres Moskovitz, the founding principal at Fabrica718, an award-winning Brooklyn design firm.
Torres Moskovitz estimates there may be 40,000 certified passive house buildings in the world, but probably fewer than 50 projects in the United States.
“There are also a lot of houses being built with the passive house (concept) in mind that don’t quite reach the (certification) level,” she says.
The stringent passive house — or Passivhaus — standards and the Passive House Planning Package software were developed by the Passive House Institute in Germany. The U.S.-based Passive House Institute is currently formulating its own standards. The PHPP software incorporates a designer’s calculations and helps design a passive house.
A passive house saves up to 90 percent of space heating costs and 75 percent of overall energy costs, though some European studies indicate the numbers may be even higher.
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