The A to Z of a passive house

by | Sep 15, 2022 | Designs

Are you over the jargon that people in the building industry love to use? (we are guilty of this ourselves!) Then you should bookmark this article, because this is the place where we dive into some of the most pressing terms when it comes to passive house and hybrid home design.

Here’s our A zo Z glossary of passive houses!

A AS IN AIRTIGHTNESS

The resistance to inward or outward air leakage through unintentional leakage points in the building envelope. Common air leaks occur around windows, doors, floors, or roofs. To optimise your home’s energy efficiency, it is crucial to control the air flow in the building – and create the highest level of airtightness.

B AS IN BUILDING CODE OF AUSTRALIA (BCA)

The BCA regulates the minimum requirements for safety, health, amenity and sustainability in the design and construction of new buildings in Australia. Therefore, every newly built house must comply with the requirements of the BCA. In 2011, the new National Construction Code (NCC) was established to combine both the (BCA) and the Plumbing Code of Australia (PCA).

One of the requirements of the NCC is meeting the current 6-star energy rating to reduce the environmental impacts of energy consumption and water usage. As of 2022 however, the building ministers of Australia approved an increase to 7 stars for 2023.

Here’s everything you need to know about the update to 7 stars.

C AS IN CERTIFICATION

You have to meet strict criteria in order to call your home a certified passive house. To achieve this, your architect or builder will generally involve a passive house certifier early on in the planning process. The certifier checks all relevant aspects of the building to see if it needs any alterations or if it meets the standards for a certified passive house.

You can learn more about the difference between passive house design and passive solar design here

D AS IN DESIGN

Our design is more than meets the eye ? When you see our renders, floor plans and images, this is actually one of the last steps in our design process. Before that, a lot of time goes into client communication, site visits, speaking with councils and getting permits, and thorough analyses of the site’s conditions to make sure we have all the data we need to not only design beautiful, but energy efficient and high-performing homes.

If you are interested in our process and how we work with clients, you can find a detailed description of each step over here.

E AS IN ENERGY RATING

Did you know that Australian houses are given a star rating based on the energy efficiency of their design? The rating considers factors such as the building envelope (the roof, walls, floor and windows), the orientation, and the type of glazing. 6-stars are the standard for new-builds currently, but only recently, the building ministers of Australia approved an increase to 7 stars for 2023.

Want to know how much you can save by increasing the energy rating of your home? We have done the calculations!

F AS IN FLOOR

What is the best type of floor for a passive house? We do get asked this a lot! And the answer is: It depends. If you are building a  certified passive house that is airtight and contains the heat, you won’t have to worry about flooring and just choose whatever you please.

But it gets a bit more complicated with a passive solar or hybrid house, because heat is still transferring through windows, doors, gaps and other cracks. A timber floor for example can’t store the heat, so it is not ideal. You should rather be looking at concrete floors, as they store heat or cold and release it overnight.

G AS IN GLAZING

Windows are literally a big hole in your wall – and as such, they are the biggest source of heat loss and gain in buildings. That’s why using the right type of glazing is so important to keep your house cold in summer and warm in the winter.

In passive house design, double and triple glazing is the only option to sustain the overall concept of energy efficiency.

In fact, it’s so important that windows will pop up 2 more times in this list!

H AS IN HRV SYSTEM

Ensuring proper ventilation is crucial in passive houses, as they are designed to be airtight, but you still want to remove moisture, odours, dust and pollutants.

That’s what a Heat Recovery Ventilation (short HRV) system is for: It draws filtered outdoor air into living spaces and bedrooms and exhausts stale air from bathrooms and kitchens.

Here’s an infographic about how this works:

mould Heat recovery infographic

I AS IN INSULATION

Insulation is one of the major components to ensure you have a warm and healthy home. It acts as a buffer between your home and the outside, making it easier to maintain a consistent and comfortable temperature throughout the home regardless of the weather and climate.

Heat loss through walls, roofs and floors account for more than 70% of the total heat loss in buildings. Therefore, improving thermal insulation is an extremely effective way to save energy, while improving thermal comfort and preventing structural damage at the same time.

That is why passive houses are built to a very high standard of insulation.

J AS IN JUNCTION

There are many junctions in your home: between walls, ceiling and walls, floor and walls, and the floor. All of these junctions should be sealed properly to ensure they are not letting any cold or hot air in.

If you’re thinking, a small little gap can’t have that big of an impact, you’re wrong – those gaps add up! Estimates from the consumer advocacy group Choice Australia claim that leaks in an average home equate to having a 1 by 1.5 metre window open all the time.

Sounds pretty cold!

K AS IN KITCHEN

We get a lot of questions about kitchens. Like, a lot! What type of stove top do you recommend? How will a rangehood work? And are induction cooktops any good for stir-fries?

We generally recommend using all electric appliances in your passive home. This is more efficient as you are using your own power generated by solar panels, but it also uses less overall electricity, saving you a heap of money. And yes, you can cook delicious stir-fries on induction cooktops, as our building designer Evangelia reassured us ?

As for rangehoods, a traditional setup isn’t airtight enough to keep the house at the airtightness we want, which is why we work with recirculation kits, consisting of a stainless-steel vent and charcoal filters.

Want to know more about kitchen designs? Here’s all you need to know about kitchen designs in passive houses.

L AS IN LONGEVITY

One of the many positives of building a passive or solar passive house is the longevity of the built! This is not only achieved by the durability of materials that are used, but especially because of the airtight building envelope, ensuring that no moisture can get into the frame and cause mould issues.

One of the principles of passive house design is creating an airtight home to control the internal environment. This creates a comfortable and stable inside temperature – but has many people worried about mould potentially creeping into their new home. Read here how you can prevent mould in your home.

M AS IN MAINTENANCE

…or M as in ‘more time to do the things you like, and less time spent with the upkeep of your home’.

Passive houses and passive inspired homes are built to last more than a lifetime, lifting the burden of having to spend your weekends working on your home. Homes are for living, and that’s what you’ll get to enjoy in your passive house.

N AS IN NET ZERO

This is talked about a lot recently around the globe. Net zero refers to achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we produce, and the amount of emissions that are taken out of the atmosphere.

In the building sector, net zero homes are buildings that are not only extremely energy efficient, but also run with a solar energy system to reduce carbon emissions. This is absolutely necessary to help reach Australia’s 2050 net zero target, but also benefits homeowners because of reduced energy bills, an improved well-being and overall comfort and quality.

O AS IN ORIENTATION

Orientation plays a significant role in maintaining a comfortable home throughout the year. Given the high intensity of the Australian sun, it’s an important consideration when designing a home.

Passive house design relies on cleverly positioned orientation that utilises shade during summer but embraces the sun in winter. A natural way of heating and cooling your house, while filling your home with as much natural light as possible.

P AS IN PASSIVHAUS

No, this is not a typo. It is actually the German spelling of passive house.

The concept of highly energy efficient homes originated in Germany in the late 1980s, and the first ever passive house was built in the city of Darmstadt in Germany’s west.

The idea behind the development of passive houses is to increase the energy efficiency of a house by up to 90%, massively reduce energy cost and therefore the environmental impact while increasing the comfortableness of a home.

If you want to learn more about the history of Passivhaus and the principles behind this designing and building method, head over to this article.

Q AS IN QUALITY

What makes the quality of a home is not just high-end finishes and expensive material selections, it’s the attention to detail that goes into the build. It’s the hard work and effort put in by everyone involved to ensure you get the best home for your family to thrive in.

But quality is also knowing how your house performs. And by that we mean really performs, not just on paper, but in real life. That is why we go the extra mile and test the performance of our homes as much as we possibly can.

And that is quality to us.

R AS IN RETROFITTING

Retrofitting a home is a great way to improve your current living situation. And some people even go as far as lifting their existing home to passive house standard! There even is a proper certificate for retrofitted passive houses – EnerPHit.

To get that certificate, you need focus on the following areas during your retrofitting process:

  • improved thermal insulation
  • reduction of thermal bridges
  • considerably improved airtightness
  • use of high-quality windows
  • ventilation with heat recovery ventilation systems
  • efficient heat generation
  • use of renewable energy sources

If you stick to these suggestions, you can achieve energy savings of 75% to 90%, even in your existing home!

S AS IN SUSTAINABILITY

There are many aspects of sustainability when it comes to the design and construction of a home.

  1. you want your home to be as efficient as possible to only add the absolute minimum necessary amount of emissions to the atmosphere
  2. you want to use materials that don’t negatively impact the planet
  3. you want to extend the longevity and durability of the home

With our hybrid home approach, we take all of these aspects into consideration to design the perfect family home for you without harming the planet.

T AS IN THERMAL MASS

Thermal mass describes a material’s capacity to store heat. For instance, concrete, bricks and tiles can store a relatively large amount of heat, while materials such as timber can only store a small amount.

Where possible, we try to use materials with high thermal mass, as they help to maintain comfortable temperatures throughout the home, and reduce reliance on heating and cooling devices.

U AS IN U VALUE

In building design, the U-value (or thermal transmittance) indicates how effective a material is as an insulator. The higher the number, the more heat will be lost by passing through. The lower the number, the better insulated the material.

On average, single glazed windows have a U-value of 5.6 whereas double glazing can have a rating of up to 2.8. This means you will get 50% better insulation simply by adding one pane of glass.

And it gets even better: Triple glazing can offer a U-value of 0.8, keeping your home comfortable and warm at all times.

If you are looking for more information on windows and how to assess their performance, read our blog article on the topic.

V AS IN VENTILATION

Air tightness plays a massive role in designing energy efficient hybrid homes. To ensure healthy air quality inside as well as remove moisture and unwanted smells and pollutants in a hybrid home, we include HRV systems in most of our designs.

This heat recovery ventilation system helps improve the physical health and wellbeing for the owners as well as the comfort of a home – and it also reduces the amount of dusting you have to do! ?

W AS IN WINDOWS

Windows are super important, as they are basically a huge hole in your wall. That’s why you want to make sure that you use efficient windows that are properly sealed and installed, for the best possible performance.

Now, when looking for the right window, there are a few things to consider:

  • Glazing: Do I want double or triple glazed windows? (Single glazing won’t be able to give you any desirable performance)
  • Framing: What material has the best thermal performance?
  • Sealing: How many sealing points do I want? (The more the better)
  • Coating: A low-e soft coat will increase the window’s performance
  • Testing: Which window has the best performance value and has been tested to fit my individual climate conditions?

If you are looking for a comprehensive guide on which window to buy, you can listen to episode 5 of our podcast, where we speak with Gary from Ultimate Windows.

Z AS IN ZERO ENERGY BUILDING

Zero energy buildings combine energy efficiency and renewable energy generation to consume only as much energy as can be produced onsite through renewable resources.

The goal is that these buildings contribute less overall greenhouse gases to the atmosphere during operations than other buildings, and therefore help fight the effects of climate change.

Pretty cool concept!

And that’s it from our A to Z! This list is most definitely not final and there are many more terms that could be added.

Do you have something that you believe should be part of this list? Leave us a comment below or send us a message! We are looking forward to hear from you ?

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