Passive House is Here to Stay and This is Why

By Pablo Muñoz, Sustainability Consultant

In recent years, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions have seen a tremendous increase in interest in Passive House buildings. It’s not only in the news; here at SWA we have experienced a dramatic increase in requests for Passive House. The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority (PHFA) now includes a 10 point incentive within its Qualified Allocation Plan to developers of affordable, low-income tax credit projects that design to Passive House standards.

In New York City, public initiatives like SustaiNYC have spurred a mixed-use project that will likely result in the largest Passive House building in the world. Other public initiatives, like the reopening of NYSERDA’s MPP program, carve out funding exclusively for Passive House projects. The emergence of singular and iconic Passive House projects, such as Cornell Tech – which, upon completion, will be the largest and tallest building with this certification in the world – have also boosted interest.

Architectural Rendering of Cornell Tech Campus

Architectural Rendering of Cornell Tech Campus

It is clear that as code is made more stringent across the country, the gap between basic compliance and Passive House certification will shrink, making it more attractive for developers.

Why Choose Passive House

Here’s one good reason: smaller and fewer mechanical systems. This saves on initial costs as well as long-term operations.

Passive House sets a maximum allowed annual heating and cooling demand for a building. This firm target, or energy budget, represents the heat demand where comfort can be achieved solely by conditioning fresh air for ventilation. In other words, it’s the target where we can reduce the size and amount of equipment. Thus, there is enormous potential for savings.

How Much Does Passive House Cost?

The question our clients most frequently ask is, “How much is that going to cost me?”

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The additional initial effort to achieve the targeted heat demand and other program requirements is project -and location- specific. However, as the availability of Passive House specific or oriented products grows within the market and the number of skilled contractors with Passive House experience increases, initial investment costs will come down.

Some research shows that Passive House can be implemented for as little as 5% additional investment, or even at no extra cost; however, most sources point to a 6-10% additional cost as compared to an equivalent building.

How Much Does Passive House Save?

On the other hand, research suggests savings in the building’s energy consumption to be in the 60-90% range. The good news is that, while the additional upfront investment will continue to decrease, utility savings will last the lifetime of the building and will only improve with anticipated increases in energy costs. All things considered, it looks as if Passive House is here to stay.

Meet a SWA Passive House Expert

C:UsersCADUpstairsDesktoppassive house Model (1)Let Steven Winter Associates guide you through the Passive House process. Our experience on Passive House buildings large and small as both Certified Passive House Consultants and PHIUS+ Verifiers is unparalleled.

We’ll be at the upcoming North American Passive House Conference in Philadelphia, PA September 21-25. Stop by our booth (#12) to talk to one of our experts and learn how your project can meet Passive House standards.

Lois Arena, SWA’s head of Passive House services and Senior Mechanical Engineer, will present on lessons learned from field testing Passive House buildings.

Karla Butterfield, Senior Sustainability Consultant with SWA, will present a case study on maintaining indoor air quality in passive and zero energy homes without compromising efficiency.

Can’t make it to Philly? Contact Lois Arena at larena@swinter.com.

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