Passive houses moving here from Europe

European countries are far ahead of the United States in developing a new system for creating energy-efficient buildings.

They have adopted the Passive House system, a program for building structures designed to save energy. More than 12,000 such buildings have been built, many of them in Sweden and Germany.

The goal of the Passive House program is to produce buildings that save a maximum amount of energy. These buildings have the following characteristics:

• They use unusually heavy applications of insulation to prevent heat loss.

• They use heavy materials in the walls and floors that conserve energy.


• They use triple-paned glazed windows.  

• They include a passive ventilation system that permits warm air (or cool) to circulate in the building freely.

• Their roof is designed to overhang the side of the house in a way that prevents the sun from shining in the windows.  

• They have an underground geothermal recovery system.

Most Passive House buildings result in a 75 percent reduction in the use of energy, in comparison with conventional buildings. In Europe, some of the Passive House contractors claim their buildings use 90 percent less energy than other buildings.

The Passive House movement was the subject of a recent meeting at the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center near Lanesboro. Tim Eian, an architect from Germany, was the speaker. He came to the U.S. seven years ago to promote the development of Passive House buildings.

Eian said that the Passive House system has been widely adopted in Europe. By the end of last year, 12,000 Passive House buildings had been built, mostly in Germany and Sweden. Professor Bo Adamson of Sweden and Dr. Wolfgang Feist of Germany were the founders of the Passive House movement.  

The emphasis in building Passive House structures is on conservation of energy. In Germany, some of the Passive House buildings don’t even have furnaces.


Backers of the Passive House system favor the use of renewable fuels, but they believe that it is most important to reduce energy costs no matter what kind of fuels are used.  

Eian said that it costs about 6 percent more to build a Passive House structure than a conventional building. However, he said, that amount can be recovered in a short time because of lower operating costs.

The Waldsee Building in Bemidji, Minn., was the first officially certified Passive House in the United States. Other Passive Houses have been built in Urbana, Ill., and on Martha’s Vineyard, an island southeast of Boston.

Joe Deden, director of the Eagle Bluff Center, has formed a team that will advise him on the feasibility of retrofitting the director’s house, where he and his wife, Mary Bell, live so that it can function as a Passive House. He said Eagle Bluff will continue to advocate the use of renewable energy, but will also encourage the widespread use of Passive House building methods.

More information on Passive House buildings can be found on the Internet under the headings Passive House Institute, Passive House Design and Passive House Movement.

Bill Boyne is a retired editor and publisher of the Post-Bulletin. His column appears monthly.

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