The History of Passive House: How the Passive House Standard Was Born

In 1988 two men had a vision: to create a house which provided comfort, affordability, excellent air quality/ventilation, and reliable performance, without compromising on design.  They embarked on a journey, which was to change the face of low energy developments and architecture, and deliver enormous benefits to both people and the planet.  Their vision became the Passive House standard (Passivhaus).

The collaborators and originators of the Passive House concept, Professor Bo Adamson of Lund University, Sweden, and Dr Wolfgang Feist of the Institute for Housing and the Environment, were no strangers to energy and the role it played in building design and had identified that further development of the key principles for low energy housing was needed.  Through a number of research projects, a pilot scheme was implemented in 1990: the Kranichstein PassiveHouse in Darmstadt, Germany.

The first Passive House residences comprised of a row of four terraced houses and were designed by the architectural firm Bott, Ridder and Westermeyer and became the first inhabited multi-family homes to achieve a recorded heating energy consumption of below 12kWh/(m2a) – just 10% of a standard home at that time.  The definition of the Passive House placed an emphasis on buildings which require an extremely small heating energy demand, even in a central European climate.  The idea was to create dwellings which would be kept warm ‘passively’, using only internal heat sources, solar energy and the minimal heating of fresh air via mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR).  In the very first Passive House residences the heat recovery ventilation was located in the cellar, which had an approximate temperature of 9oC in winter, and was the first system to use electronically commutated DC fans.

In 1996 an independent research organization was founded, The Passive House Institute (PHI), to promote and control the Passive House standard and has played a crucial role in the development of the Passive House concept.

Today the Passive House standard has become a worldwide phenomenon and a generic term for a low energy building: although energy efficiency was initially a by-product of the original concept, which was to find a long-term, sustainable construction solution offering unparalleled comfort to occupants.  As of 2014, there are now an estimated 40,000 buildings certified to the Passive House standard with thousands more low energy developments inspired by the model.