Living in a Passive House. How Do They Fare Over the Years?

A cozy, well-designed Passivhaus living room interior, demonstrating how comfort and sustainability can coexist beautifully.

So far, with our blog articles, we have covered quite a diverse set of topics. From the future of Passive House in Australia and debunking the most common myths about Passive Housing to more technical topics such as how environmental sustainability can be achieved by building to the Passive House requirements.

There is one thing missing from the list, though. How is it to actually live in a Passive House once you build one? Does the investment in high-quality materials pay off in the end? These are questions that, we thought, would be interesting to answer. After all, what is the point in going through the process of learning about Passive House if, at the end of it, you don’t also have a vague idea of the living conditions in such a home?

With Passive House dubbed as being the next big thing in Australian building practices, criticism follows suit. Therefore, let us indulge the critics and explore how life is, in what they call, an energy saving box.

This ‘exploration’ will tackle issues such as the durability of a Passive House set in the context of the very first one ever built, and examples of the ‘Passive House’ life will be presented using a varied pool of ‘lessons learned’ from homeowners across the globe.  

A Passive House Over the Years – Is Durability an Issue?

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One of the main considerations when the Passive House standard came about, was how to make it as durable as possible. It is widely accepted that the standard employs one of the most rigorous guidelines for building. However, are these actually useful? Do the energy performance and the quality of materials used survive the test of time?

In order to answer these questions, we referred back to the first Passive House ever built. It is located in Darmstadt, Germany, and was constructed in 1991. The idea of using passive components in the building envelope was based on the expectation that these won’t need that much maintenance and have a long service life.

This expectation matched reality, and a study conducted 25 years after its construction has demonstrated that the Passive House techniques used have ensured the house’s longevity. The results pretty much speak for themselves:

  • The basic components of the ventilation system are expected to last at least another 50 years
  • The gas losses experienced over the 25 years period are so low, that the triple pane low-e glazing units used for insulating the house are still good for another 20 years
  • The insulated structures used in the building envelope haven’t changed at all, and airtightness still registers the same original measurements 25 years after construction. All this, even though several earthquakes occurred in the area.

The study concluded that the Passive House concept is indeed a champion for sustainable construction and it offers a good life cycle balance. Energy consumption is insignificant and stable over time. More importantly, the durability of the components used ensures the building’s longevity, all the while offering excellent indoor air quality and comfort.

Passive House Rules – A Goal for Comfortable Living?

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The guidelines given by the Passive House Institute to be followed by any wannabe Passive House owner are designed with comfort and a high quality of life in mind. The numbers are pretty conclusive on this:

  • Heating demand is capped at 15kWh/m2/year
  • Humidity needs to be contained at 65% relative humidity at 25°C for at least 80% of the year
  • Temperatures higher than 25°C are limited to 10% of the year if no mechanical cooling is used
  • If mechanical cooling is employed, then it will need to operate within the same energy limit as heating

These living standards sound good on paper, but how is it to actually live in a Passive House? Read on to find out.

Living in a Passive House – Tips and Tricks

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In the following sections, we’ll cover key lessons or Passive House life hacks if you will, coming from homeowners across the world.

The ‘Sealed Box’ Issue

A misplaced criticism, popular within the Australiasian region, is to do with the airtightness of the building envelope in so far that with such strict air changes per hour, it essentially means that the house cannot be opened to the outdoors. The first pair of homeowners we’d like to give as an example, come from New Zealand and relish in disproving this statement.

Their Passive House design accounts for a large number of French doors which, they say, gives them the traditional Kiwi indoor-outdoor flow. With fresh air circulating 24/7 even during winter, thanks to a highly efficient ventilation system, you simply cannot say that living in a Passive House stops you from opening your home to the outdoors.

Awareness of the Outdoors in Day-to-Day Living

A Passive House is heavily focused on using the outdoors to create a comfortable indoor environment. This close relationship between the house and its surrounding environment has surprised our next homeowner. His Passive House is located in the American Midwest.

His biggest surprise was how much heat the windows allowed in the house, especially during wintertime. He realised there is a difference between a normal house and a Passive House in terms of how it makes use of the heat from the sun. In this case, the whole atmosphere of the house was comfortably warm, and during autumn, the shading device had to be used in order to prevent the house from overheating.

The next surprise was the efficiency of the solar hot water and the photovoltaic systems. Even on a cloudy day with temperatures around 10 degrees, the hot water tank still maintained the 100 degrees level.

This close connection between the house, sun, weather, and the outdoors has slowly grown to be a focal point in the day-to-day living of this homeowner.

Efficiency in Minimising Bills

The focus in this section will be on one of the first certified Passive Houses in the UK. The house itself is located in the quiet village of Denby Dale.

A reference is made here again, by the homeowners, to the efficiency of the solar thermal system located on the roof. Through the clever use of energy, this pair of homeowners didn’t have to use the boiler at all from April till September. The only reason the gas was being used at all, was for cooking.

The estimated gas bill for the first quarter was indeed £888, but it was based on an average estimate for the area. Once the precise meter readings were provided, the total bill came down to a staggering £31. For the whole month of August, the gas bill was only 59 pence! However, the usage did increase in September to a scandalous £1.32.

Life in a Non-Residential Passive House Building

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So far, we have gone through how life is in a Passive House from a residential point of view. How about when it comes to non-residential buildings? Is the experience that much different? This is what we’re just about to find out.

The focus here will be on a school built in the Passive House way. The school is located in Hamburg, Germany. The Passive House standard was used as a means to cut down on heating costs and improve indoor conditions for pupils.

The first thing that impressed was the ventilation system. As it was automatic, this meant user-friendliness was guaranteed. Air changes can take place up to 4 times per classroom which is more than could be done by simply opening the windows.

The whole system had such advanced technology that it identified a pattern of knowing how many students would be in a classroom at what time. During winter, pre-heating the rooms to the minute was an absolute breeze.

Passive House Living – Final Remarks

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When you think that the whole point of the Passive House is to guarantee occupant comfort through building sustainably, it really comes as no surprise that life in such a home has received glowing feedback.

It goes without saying that you are not expected now to run out of the door and preach the Passive House principles to anyone who would listen. Baby steps need to be taken at least until you get your very own Passive House.

Luckily, we have a dedicated blog section on our website to help deepen your knowledge on the topic. If you are still interested in the concept, then feel free to click here for further details on the courses we provide.

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