With today’s rise in environmental awareness, terms like “Passive House”, “Green Building” and “Energy Efficient” are often used in discussions about making responsible construction choices. These terms are often used interchangeably, but each holds a distinct meaning.
In this article, we will examine these concepts and understand how they fit into our global sustainability goals.
To establish a solid understanding, let’s define these three concepts.
“Passive House” is a design and construction standard initiated in Germany in the late 1980s. It primarily focuses on designing the building enclosure to minimize energy use and, consequently, carbon emissions, proportional to what the climate crisis demands. Optimization of the building shell also provides other benefits such as improved comfort, indoor air quality, and human health.
“Green Building,” is a broad set of strategies used to create buildings while minimizing the damage caused to natural systems and creating livable homes and communities. Green Building strategies focus on optimizing things like energy and water use, indoor environmental quality, selection of materials, social equity, aesthetics, site usage, and urban planning, in the context of the entire lifecycle of a building.
“Energy Efficient Design” only considers the energy needed to create and operate the built environment. Energy efficiency in buildings is pursued more frequently than some other subsets of Green Building because it is generally agreed that the addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, as a result of human activities, is the most dangerous of all the effects that humans have on the environment.
The main difference between Passive House, Green Building, and Energy-Efficient Design is the breadth of scope that each covers. Let’s take a look at their similarities and differences in detail.
Passive House design optimizes energy efficiency through the use of super-insulation, air-tightness, high-performance windows, and heat recovery ventilation. The building shell is designed, and materials are carefully selected, for their thermal performance and ability to prevent air leakage while still providing ample ventilation.
Green building takes advantage of a wider range of materials and approaches such as using locally sourced, recycled or renewable materials, energy- and water-efficient appliances and fixtures, renewable energy generation and storage systems, water harvesting and landscaping that supports local biodiversity, and planning for walking, biking, or public transit.
Energy-Efficient Design includes many of the Passive House strategies. Additional measures include use of high-efficiency fixtures and appliances, and taking advantage of natural lighting. Recent additions to Energy-Efficient Design strategies include selecting materials with a low embodied-carbon footprint and integrating car batteries into the building energy storage plan.
Passive House certification requires that the project meets rigorous criteria for maximum energy efficiency and air-tightness set by Passivhaus Institut (PHI) or Passive House Institute US (PHIUS). Green Building certifications include Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Living Building Challenge, and Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM). Energy-efficient design includes certifications and guidelines from local or regional jurisdictions, non-profits, and utility providers, and the ENERGY STAR program.
All three design methodologies lead to significant energy savings and subsequent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, with Passive House arguably leading the pack due to its rigorous standards. Green buildings shine in their overall lower environmental footprint, considering factors beyond energy. Cost-wise, these designs can be more expensive upfront, but can pay for themselves through energy and resource savings over time, as well as increased property value. Also, for many, having a healthy, comfortable, durable and resilient home is priceless.
The choice between Passive House, Green Building, or Energy-Efficient Design often comes down to specific project goals, budget, and location. If your primary concern is energy efficiency, a Passive House that incorporates additional energy-efficiency features could be the right choice. If you’re looking for a holistic approach to sustainability, a Green Building design that incorporates Passive House techniques may be more appropriate.
Our Carmel Building & Design’s team of experts will happily answer any questions you may have. Contact us today to schedule a consultation, and let’s embark on this journey toward a sustainable and energy-efficient future.
June 25, 2018 Blog
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