Why Demand is Growing for Passive House Buildings

Here’s a news item that caught my eye last week: the Energy News Network reported that new incentives from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center sparked significant growth of passive house-certified multi-family buildings within the state throughout 2021, and looks to rise even further this year.

Per the report:

In the past year, families have moved into 257 affordable housing units in complexes built to the [passive house] standard, and about 6,000 additional units are now in various stages of development. Early numbers indicate that this building approach costs, on average, less than 3% more than conventional construction and can slash energy use roughly in half. Air quality is higher in these buildings and residents report the units being more comfortable to live in. Many developers who have tried passive house building have been so pleased with the benefits for residents that they are eager to pursue more projects built to the standard.

Massachusetts isn’t the only area where passive house construction is growing in prominence and popularity. Another recent report from Bloomberg notes that demand for passive house construction is growing as homeowners contend with extreme weather and as governments incentivize building decarbonization. The Guardian cites a simple reason why passive house buildings are growing in popularity: “People love living in them.”

This all tracks with the broader trends around energy efficiency that are driving the commercial fenestration industry, but passive house strikes me as a particularly interesting development. Compared with, say, building codes as a driver for higher energy performance, passive house certification prioritizes the entirety of an occupant’s experience. Airtight construction, indoor air quality, sound reduction and extreme resiliency are all factored in. Passive house design principles also specify high-performance windows and doors, where solar heat gain is managed to exploit the sun’s energy for heating purposes and to minimize overheating during the cooling season.

Suppose you’re a manufacturer or builder looking to capitalize on the rise of passive house construction. In that case, you must equip yourself with the right technologies, backed by the required certification credentials and performance data, to meet demand. Passive house certification isn’t easy to obtain—and that’s the point. These are extremely efficient structures that seek to drive energy consumption to the lowest possible point; the annual energy demand of passive homes is estimated to be 70% less than that of traditionally insulated buildings.

Insulating glass is an obvious necessity for meeting passive house criteria, with triple-paned units likely a requirement in certain climate zones. True warm-edge spacer systems are a good option to meet thermal performance targets here. Elsewhere, vinyl and composite framing options can help meet the thermal requirements, but there are other criteria to consider as well. A vinyl system that eliminates the need for foam filling or complex strut systems to meet required levels of structural strength can help streamline the manufacturing process. Owners and occupants care about aesthetics, too. Vinyl systems that are available in durable color options can be a differentiator between your certified systems and other available passive house offerings. Passive house is a selective certification. If you’ve identified it as a market worth pursuing, that means you should likewise be discerning in specifying the right technology you’ll deploy to meet the right performance requirements.

Elevated thermal performance is the way of the future in the commercial construction space—getting ahead of the curve now can be a good way to separate yourself from the competition.

Joe Erb is commercial sales specialist for Quanex.