More projects are proving Passive House is achievable for large urban buildings and providing lessons for a low-energy, resilient future.
by James Wilson
“Think in terms of being evolutionary, not revolutionary,” says Mike Steffen, AIA, director of innovation at Walsh Construction. He’s learned that when it comes to building high-performance projects, the best strategy is to focus on fundamental principles rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.
This is one reason why the Passive House approach is attractive: it’s based on simple, straightforward principles of passive design, starting with a tight, well-insulated envelope and a compact form oriented for optimal solar gain.
Although achieving Passive House performance may become trickier as the size or complexity of the building increases, a number of projects have demonstrated that, with a holistic approach and diligent attention to detail, it’s both doable and affordable. And the number of larger buildings pursuing Passive House design is growing.
Steffen, who has spent about 30 years in the building industry, said that before the Passive House Standard was introduced, essentially codifying the basic approach to passive design for modern buildings, there was an increasing recognition that it was the best way to do things. “We had seen how important it is to get the basic design of the building done right first, and then get the enclosure right—designed well, built well,” said Steffen, “and to make investments in that basic design and envelope first before focusing on the mechanical things and the green bling-y things like renewables.”
In recent years, more people in the building industry have recognized that the underlying principles of Passive House are not only intuitive and accessible but also highly effective. Since the Passive House Standard was first introduced in the early 1990s, thousands of projects around the world have used it to reduce heating and cooling demand by about 90% and their primary energy demand by about 75%. The vast majority are single-family homes and other small, low-rise buildings, but a growing number are large—including multifamily housing developments as well as mid-rise and high-rise residential and office towers.