Passive house design has gained traction in Europe and is now starting to trend in Australia. This modern house design technique of building aims to create homes with higher energy efficiency and fewer costs long term.
What is passive house design?
Passive house design, also known as ‘Passivhaus’ in German, is a method of design principles used by builders and architects to reduce or eliminate the need for supplementary or additional heating and cooling in your home. The average use of heating and cooling can account for 40% of the energy usage in your home, followed by appliances at 33%.
A home with passive design will be low-energy. It aims to reduce your carbon footprint on the environment. In turn, it can also save you on energy costs.
How does passive design work for a home?
Passive design uses natural sources of heating and cooling to meet the needs of your home. An example of this would be to take advantage of the sun during cold weather or a cool breeze during hot weather.
There’s no one way to do passive house design. You’ll need to consider a few factors like the position of your home including roof, walls, windows, and floors. The other element which impacts this is climate. Although Australia is typically hot during summer months, in some areas, the weather may change. In Queensland, tropical storms can affect building design, whereas colder temperatures impact a home in Melbourne in winter. Your proximity to the ocean may also interfere with weather patterns and your house design.
By being aware of your surroundings and how the sun or wind changes throughout the year, you can help minimise unwanted heat gain and loss, creating a more comfortable home environment.
Passive house design principles
If modern house design trends inspire you, passive house design is something you don’t want to overlook.
According to Australian Passive House Association, there are five principles for passive house design.
Insulation is seen as a barrier to heat flow and improves comfortability. It’s vital to keep the heat in your home during winter and out or limited in summer. Adding insulation to your modern house design can also help to waterproof and soundproof your home, and is best done at the time of construction. However, insulation can still be done later where appropriate.
You wouldn’t leave an air con with the door open, but your home could still be losing its natural heating and cooling less visibly. If you seal your windows, you can stop these air leaks. This sealing is essential if you live in an area prone to drastic changes in temperature. The best option is to use low-emission double or triple glazing with thermal broken or non-metal frames. The windows should be in a position that makes the most of the sun movements all year round.
Air is good for us! However, by opening windows or doors you can expose yourself to noise, dirt or other pollutants. To prevent this and to keep your home cold and warm when needed, a mechanical ventilation unit could be useful. This unit recovers heat and coolth, while also filtering the air coming into your home. And you’ll still enjoy the added privacy you need.
Airtightness is an essential part of passive house design. This technique helps to ensure that there’s only a limited amount of gaps and cracks in your home, giving you better thermal control and no draughts.
When constructing your passive home, you need to be aware that insulation thickness is significant, but so is the continuous elements of the insulation around. Similar to an envelope, if there’s one side not sealed, things may fall out, or the gap may get bigger. You should consider using materials that will absorb and store heat energy like the use of concrete, bricks, and tiles. These materials have high heat storage capacity, compared to the likes of timber which has lower levels.
How to build a passive house?
If you are looking to build a passive house, you can speak to an architect or builder about your options. Economically, passive house design is best suited for a new home or during the construction phase. That said, depending on your needs and budget, you can still make changes in your home that follow these principles.
Passive house on a budget
If you already own your home or want to reduce your heating and cooling bills, applying some of the principles and techniques of passive house design can still be possible and rewarding.
1. Add shade
Adding shading to your house and outdoor spaces can reduce heat in your home during colder months, improve comfortability and help reduce your energy costs. You can use eaves, window awnings, green walls and shutters to block unwanted heat.
2. Solar heating
Instead of relying on traditional energy sources from the grid-like coal, opt-in for solar heating. Using the power of the sun is a least expensive option to heat your home. And at the same time, you’ll live by the passive house design philosophy to reduce your impact on the environment.
3. Replace windows
Have old windows or ones with gaps? Consider replacing them with double or triple-glazed versions. Also look at old glass doors, which may be letting heat escape when you need it during winter.
4. Draught proof
A common place where heat escapes is through the door. A quick fix for this is to add a rolled towel or buy a door snake. You may also consider sealants or a frame to help close other gaps around the area.
Modern house design
If you are looking to reduce sound in your place or want to transform it, check out our vertical gardens and green walls here.
Up next: 16 ways to keep warm in your home