Mary James is the editor and publisher at Low Carbon Productions. She recently published Recreating the American Home: The Passive House Approach, and in 2008, she coauthored Homes for a Changing Climate: Passive Houses in the U.S. with Katrin Klingenberg and Mike Kernagis. She was the editor and publisher of Home Energy magazine for 10 years. She lives in Northern California with her two children and her dog, Loki.
The Passive House Approach to designing, building, or retrofitting homes and commercial buildings ushers in a means of predictably creating very energy-efficient buildings. First implemented in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1990, this method can yield dramatic savings—up to 90%—in heating-and-cooling energy use. In fact, the term Passive House (PH), or Passivhaus in German, derives from the fact that homes built to this standard in Germany require so little energy to heat that a conventional heating system can be eliminated.
Instead, these homes can be kept comfortable primarily through a combination of passive heating sources: heat given off by people, lights, and appliances; sunlight streaming through the windows; and passively warmed fresh air, which is supplied by a mechanical ventilation system equipped with a heat recovery system. Exactly how a house can be kept comfortable while using very little energy to heat or cool will vary depending on the local climate. PH is not a prescription—it is an approach to building that incorporates a thorough understanding of building physics.
The PH approach is practical and has been tested in the field in many and diverse climates, from Sweden to Australia. In Europe, tens of thousands of buildings have been built or remodeled using the PH approach. Now this approach is taking root in American soil. To date, about 70 homes in the United States have been designed or constructed to meet the PH standard.
– An excerpt from Recreating the American Home: The Passive House Approach.