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Rating on a Passive House Scale

Posted by Macie Melendez on September 10, 2013
Rating on a Passive House Scale
A certified, new-construction Passive House in Salt Lake City, Utah. (PHIUS)

I’m going to throw a pretty wild idea out there: What if Passive House was a scaled rating? As it stands now, a home is either a Passive House or it’s not. It’s black and white. You have to meet the Passive House standards (an airtight building shell ≤ 0.6 ACH @50 Pa, an annual heat requirement ≤ 4.75 kBtu/sf/yr, and primary energy use ≤ 38.1 kBtu/sf/yr), or the home is not a Passive House. Period.

But what about those builders that spend hours upon hours trying to meet that airtightness number and can only get to 0.8 ACH? Is their work less valuable? Why can’t they, instead of getting no recognition from Passive House, instead get a rating of an A- on a Passive House scale?

The reason I bring this up is that in my research and editing of our magazine, I often find that Passive House is either wholly embraced or wholly dismissed. It’s rare that I come across a professional in the industry that doesn’t see the merit in Passive House, but oftentimes builders choose to found their businesses on other standards and codes purely because of Passive House’s strict guidelines.

In a recent New York Times article, it states that nearly 30,000 Passive houses have been built in Europe, while only 90 have been certified in the United States…and that’s over the past 10 years. The article goes on to explain that cost is a huge hurdle for the U.S. market as Passive Houses can cost anywhere from 5–20% more to build than a traditional, energy efficient home. Those who believe in Passive House say those costs will go down as the movement catches on…but will that ever happen?

According to the New York Times article, there are some signs that say mass acceptance is happening. It states: “More than 1,000 architects, builders, and consultants have received Passive-House training in this country; at least 60 houses or multifamily projects are in the works; and Marvin Windows, a mainstream manufacturer based in Minnesota, recently began making windows that meet Passive certification standards.”

But still, those numbers are pretty minor when compared to the home performance industry as a whole. And if you can’t get everyone to buy in, the movement doesn’t really stand a chance. On the other hand, if it were a rating system, it may be easier for builders to strive for greatness in the homes they’re working on. Realistically, I think we can all agree that a home with 1 ACH @50 Pa is pretty darn impressive. Not to mention all of the other performance standards a home can have that Passive House doesn’t necessarily address.

It’s not a unique argument to say that Passive House has too many variables. No Passive House is built the same, yet all Passive homes are required to adhere to the same exact standards. It’s confusing to homeowners and it costs them more money, which makes it harder for builders to sell. A possible solution for the United States Passive House market? Passive House on a scale.   

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