Eco-Friendly Passive Homes Don’t Need AC to Stay Cool

While Americans look for ways to make their homes more efficient, European designers continue building energy-sealed, so-called “passive” homes that make our Energy Star appliances look like minimal contributions to the cause. Passive architecture has caught on in the Pacific Northwest and abroad, but it’s yet to take hold in most of the United States. Have you heard about the passive home trend?

What is Passive Design?

Passive homes are extremely energy-efficient buildings that require no air conditioning or heating systems. They are sealed so tightly that no air can escape the interior of the home, leading to absolutely minimal heat transfer. As a result, the temperature in the home stays extremely comfortable year-round, resulting in a huge decrease in energy expenditure.

So how do builders make this happen? It all starts with very, very thick walls. According to the New York Times, a passive home built in a cold state like Minnesota would require walls that are up to 18 inches thick. Windows are also paned multiple times and are manufactured with a similar thick design.

Humidity is kept in check and air recycled through ventilators that mix fresh, outside air with inside air. These systems use only minimal energy and keep the air inside the structure feeling fresh and clean.

All of these factors result in huge energy savings, but owners of passive homes will tell you that even the reduced heating bill costs can’t match the greatest benefit of living in a climate-controlled environment: comfort.

“What matters is that I have never lived in such a comfortable house,” Don Freas of Olympia, Washington, told the New York Times.

Why Hasn’t the Trend Caught on in the US?

The U.S. is lagging behind other countries when it comes to implementing passive technology. The knowledge of how to build these structures has been around since the 1990s, but because gas and energy remain relatively affordable in the U.S.—as opposed to in other countries, where they are much more expensive, incentivizing homeowners to make energy-efficient decisions—American homeowners have been slow to jump on the bandwagon.

“Nearly 30,000 of these houses have already been built in Europe,” reports the New York Times. “In Germany, an entire neighborhood with 5,000 of these super-insulated, low-energy homes is under construction, and the City of Brussels is rewriting its building code to reflect passive standards.”

So far in the U.S., only 90 passive homes have been certified. Some builders argue that the reason for slow U.S. growth has been the country’s vastly varying climate. While passive homes are relatively popular in the Pacific Northwest where the climate is mild and comparable to that of Europe, they require different technologies to function in the humid Midwest, cold northern regions and hot Southwest.

If U.S. builders can learn to adapt for the country’s various climates, it could be a boon for the environment. Mother Earth News reports that while an Energy Star-certified home could save energy expenditure by about 20 to 30 perfect, a passive home would increase that efficiency to 90 percent. We’ll have to see how passive homebuilding stacks up to other energy-saving building practices in the U.S. moving forward.

77 comments

natasha p
Past Member about a year ago

lucky

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Simon L
Simon L2 years ago

ty

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Tin Ling L
Tin Ling L2 years ago

thanks for the article

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Jennifer F
Jennifer F2 years ago

I can't see this happening where I live. We have four seasons here and with the Summer humidity and Winter cold below zero, this would never work. Plus it would put BIG electric, gas and propane companies out of business that thrive on this area of the United States!

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Philippa Powers
Philippa Powers2 years ago

Thanks.

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Rosslyn O.
Rosslyn O2 years ago

It is very interesting, and they look good too, but even though there are many homes in Australia built on these styles, it is usually the wealthy that can afford to do it. Well and truly out of the average peoples price range, sadly. What annoys most of us is the lack of support in making every house built have sky-lights, solar lighting, solar hot water heating. Even if people wanted to go grid connect they are penalised for the most part, and cannot go off the grid by going totally solar. Sad really. Au just wants to keep the coal and oil going.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sarah H.
Sarah H2 years ago

One of the reasons that this hasn't become the norm in Australia is that building is incredibly expensive. The cheapest structures without double/triple-glazing and super thick walls price at around $2000/m2. Until this sort of building becomes the standard and we get economies of scale, comfortable and responsible house design remains in the hands of the wealthy.

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