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Passive house : definition and criteria

Birth of passive houses

The first passive construction label was formalized in 1988 by Prof. Bo Adamson and Dr. Wolfgang Feist and they built the first passive house in Darmstadt, Kranischtein in 1991:

  • 90% savings in heating costs compared to the standard
  • 27 years later, the construction is still as efficient as ever.
ecological and passive house building in portugal - construction écologique et passive au portugal - Ecological and passive house in Portugal - maison écologique et passive au Portugal

What is a passive building ?

Passive houses combine thermal comfort, indoor air quality and very low energy consumption.

In terms of appearance it is not possible to recognize a passive house, in fact it is a performance standard and not a specific construction method. Passive buildings must meet energy demand requirements, but everyone is free to choose how to reach them.

The passive house saves 90% of the energy used for heating in a standard construction and 75% in the case of a new construction.

  • Possible anywhere in the world (more than 4000 houses certified to date)
  • Suitable for different types of construction (residential and non-residential buildings such as cinemas, schools or offices)
  • Heating or cooling techniques to be adapted according to the climate.

A short explanatory video to understand passive houses in 90 seconds.

renovation-passive-house-enerphit-réhabilitation-maison-passive-qu'est-ce qu'une maison passive-what is a passive house

What about renovation ?

It is quite difficult to achieve the Passivhaus standard when it comes to renovation, particularly because of the difficulties encountered in reducing all thermal bridges and insulating from the outside. This is why there is a Passivhaus standard specific to renovation (EnerPHit = Energy Retrofit with Passive House Components):

  • Less demanding performance criteria
  • Offer the client a guarantee of quality in the modernization of his or her home

The principles of passive construction


Criteria of passive houses :

If one of the following criteria is not met, the building will not be eligible for Passivhaus certification!

  • Heating/cooling requirements ⩽ 15 kWh/m².year or maximum heating/cooling load  ⩽ 10 W/m²

In a traditional house, heating needs are around 60-150 kWh/m²a (4 to 10 times more than in a passive house). The maximum load for heating in a traditional house is about 30-50 W/m² (3 to 5 times more than in a passive construction).

  • Airtightness n50 ⩽ 0.6/h

In a traditional construction, if we add up all the small air leaks that were left during construction, it is as if there was a 40×40 cm hole in the wall. In a passive building, it is as if there were a hole the size of a €1 coin.

  • Primary energy requirements ⩽ 120 kWh/m².year or primary renewable energy needs ⩽ 60 kWh/m².year


  • Overheating limitation (less than 10% of the days of the year must have temperature peaks above 25 degrees)

5 things that I love about passive houses

In this video, Elrond Burrell highlights 5 things he likes about passive houses.

Elrond Burrell is a New Zealand architect and certified passivhaus designer. He has more than 18 years of experience in architecture and sustainable design. His areas of expertise include passive houses and timber construction.