Would You Like to See a Passive House Standard?

John G. Swanson
March 21, 2012
THE TALK... | Codes & Standards, Energy Efficiency

Greetings from Germany, where Fensterbau, the world's biggest window and door trade fair, kicks off a four-day run today.  A leading topic of conversation here–judging by labels on windows and signs in booths–is the Passivhaus Institut.  The organization has a whole-house standard, designed to bring energy consumption down to neglible levels, and apparently windows and doors can be certified as a passive house component.

I don't pretend to be an expert, but I had an introduction to the subject in Italy, where I joined a group of U.S. custom wood window makers who listened to a presentation about these new European standards while visiting Zuani, a tooling supplier.  They expressed some interest in offering products that could meet the strict criteria, because they see an opportunity among architects and green building enthusiasts in North America who have already embraced the passive house standard.

What about you?  Do you think a "passive house" standard would be beneficial for your business?  That's our poll question of the week.  And, of course, I'd like to hear more from you.  Are you seeing architects and builders trying to build homes to these new standards?  Have you been involved in such projects? Do you think the industry could benefit from a new energy performance standard beyond Energy Star or do you think we have more than enough standards already? Email me or post a comment and let me know what you think.


Survey Results as of 03/27/2012 :


Would you like to see a strict, passive house type window standard?









Our survey results suggest there's not a lot of enthusiasm within the industry to sell a "passive house certified" window.  Some of the comments, however, indicate there is interest in the market for passive homes.  My guess is that will strengthen, and increasing demand for the higher performance windows required for such structures.  Will it be a huge market?  I doubt it, but I suspect some companies will embrace it.

Of course, it is somewhat inevitable that performance standards will continue to become more stringent all around. 





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 I have been a fan of passive since the 70's, but I don't know what you could certify other then the project in total.    The old oak tree that lets sunlight through the windows in the winter but shades them in the summer would be difficult to certify.    Passive is a factor in every project, but almost impossible to promote or verify.


 It depends on which side of the pancake you are viewing the issue.  From  a manufacturer's standpoint, it means tooling up for an entirely new window system.  Perhaps a 1 1/2 inch glazing pocket that will allow for a triple pane unit with two 9/16's dead air spaces.  This means a massively larger window to accomodate the larger glazing pocket.  I've sketched out a few designs over the years and really like the concept. The issue is: will the market actually consume the product.   I think the Chevolet Volt is a perfect example of the the thought process of the USA's typical consumer. GM recently announced a sabatical for the current production due to lack of demand.  Clearly our nation needs to be being a figurative bridge vehicle to get our nation more energy independent.  But the consumers economic vote is not to support the concept--at least in current market conditions.  Of course, maybe they are just making prudent economic purchase decisions.  The GM Volt is expensive and a 1 1/2 glazing pocket will drive up the price of the preverbial 3'0 x 5'0.  

Personally I think it will take some kind of inforcable standard to initiate change.  Or perhaps some kind of tax incentive.  The downside for the industry is that margins have traditionally been razor thin in new construction and this has been exacerabated in the last 3 or 4 years due to the economy.  Most manufacutring concerns don't have the captial to retool.  Here's my blog on future windows. I wrote it in March of last year.  Personally I think a redesigned casement sash would be a very good bridge product. We could design one sash shape to incorporate a 1 1/2 glazing pocket.  A casement is about as energy efficient operable window as is possible to manufacture. The issue would be the added weight of the sash.  Is anybody out there interested.  

Isn't it always something?

The Europeans can create all the passive house requirements they want, but make sure that they are truly passive! Don't turn them into regulations for a government subsidy industry. All these green industry regulations are no more than a sales pitch that creates a new "need"- similar to architectural design changes that occur from time to time.  They only drive up the prices without providing any meaningful return on the investment.

I have to echo Jamie's post. I'm an architect who specifies whindows. The Passive House standard exists (so nothing new needs to be invented for that), and I'm building to it. I need windows that have a really low U-Value, high SHGC, high VT, a really good spacer, and insulated frames. I've only found one company in North America who can build what I need for the New England climate. Some come close, but not quite. The market is there for those who want to specialize.

There is indeed a growing community of designers and builders in the US learning about and applying the Passive House standard and yes, we are anxious for domestic producers of windows and doors that contribute to the performance standard these buildings require.

In essence, we are talking about net gain glazing options with frames that are strategically designed to minimize thermal bridging (a big shortcoming of NA windows) . We are desperate for door options with low U-values and exceptional air tightness. In addition we need manufacturers paying attention to the deeper wall assemblies that come with super insulation and the design and installation dilemmas that come with them.

Glad that you got a taste of this and are interested in carrying this discussion back to the states.

Another, perhaps more affordable and livable, path to maximally efficient homes is "Active House", which also has the potential to be a part of net-zero solution but across more climate zones.  Rather than isolate the spaces from the ambient world, such a house maximizes the positive aspects in the surroundings while minimizing the negative, automatically.  Please be on the lookout for developments as this emerging concept builds momentum, based on many model homes currently utilizing its principles..