What is PassivHaus?

Lead Author: Jennifer Garman

Publish date: 11.19.2010


History, Design Principles and Economic Benefits of the popular European certification and design system


According to data compiled by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, buildings accounted for approximately 30% of total national energy consumption in 2008.  The residential sector comprises approximately 15% of the total energy consumption of the US.   Not surprisingly then, building construction and home design have been the focus of many energy-efficiency initiatives, including green building efforts. One of the ways to achieve a significant reduction in national energy use and associated CO2 emissions is through the implementation of energy efficient building design and construction techniques.  There are many ways to approach the task of building an energy efficient home with a reduced environmental impact.


In the residential construction industry, several green building rating systems exist and offer potential energy saving benefits.  For instance, an Energy Star certified home has been shown to have the potential to reduce energy consumption by 15% over a comparable conventional home built to meet the 2004 International Residential Code.  More than one million homes are Energy Star certified in the U.S.


Certification under the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) has helped promote awareness of sustainable building techniques through a prescriptive building rating system that addresses sustainable site, water, energy, and material strategies. Since the release of LEED for Homes in 2008, more than 3,500 residential buildings, both single-family and multifamily structures, have been certified.   Many LEED-certified projects are in the category of affordable housing.


Over the past decade, green building has moved from esoteric to mainstream, with green building programs operating today in nations throughout the world. In North America, scores of green building programs are in existence, and each addresses energy efficiency differently. To date none provides energy savings as good as those of the latest European export – PassivHaus.


The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of the PassivHaus phenomenon including a brief history, a summary of the certification standards, design and construction techniques, and the potential economic benefits and energy savings.  Implications for public policy are also examined.  As the use of green building standards, including PassivHaus, continues to expand and influence building practices, it is important to consider the most appropriate and effective ways to utilize aspects of these standards to inform policy decisions.