Can a passive house have a fireplace?

by | Feb 18, 2022 | Designs

We get this question a lot: Is it possible to have a fireplace in a passive house? The short answer is: Yes, it is possible. But there are some specifics to installing a fireplace in a passive house.

To understand what you have to look out for, we explain if a passive house needs heating at all and what the different heating options are, before talking about what fireplace to get for your passive build.

  • Does a passive house need heating?
  • What are the passive house heating options?
  • Reverse cycle split system air conditioner
  • Electric panel heaters
  • Electric floor heating
  • Heat pump hydronic panel
  • Heat pump hydronic floor heating
  • Can I have a fireplace in a passive house?

DOES A PASSIVE HOUSE NEED HEATING?

In general, passive houses are designed without the need for a conventional heating and cooling. High-quality insulation in walls, roof and flooring as well as at least double glazed windows, among other passive house elements, ensure that the inside temperature will stay nice and comfortable in both summer and winter.

In winter, heat is recovered via the mechanical ventilation system and ducted throughout the house, while strategic shading is used to keep the house nice and cool in summer.

However, depending on the climate zone, you might want to add a small scale heating and cooling option. Let’s have a look at the passive house heating options.

WHAT ARE THE PASSIVE HOUSE HEATING OPTIONS?

Of course you can choose to install conventional heating and cooling units in your passive house, however, due to the increased insulation and airtight design of passive homes, this is usually not necessary.

REVERSE CYCLE SPLIT SYSTEM AIR CONDITIONER

Reverse cycle split system air conditioners absorb heat from the outside air and release it into the home in winter, and absorb hot air from inside in summer. These units are both heating and cooling in one device, therefore saving you the effort of having two separate systems. Reverse cycle split systems are the main source of additional heating and cooling in passive houses in Australia.

ELECTRIC PANEL HEATERS

Electric panel heaters are especially popular for refurbished homes, as they offer an easy plug-in solution to heat homes. However, they are very pricey to run and can give off a burnt smell from time to time.

ELECTRIC FLOOR HEATING

Electric floor heating is a nice feature to have, especially on these cold winter days. However, as comfortable as they might feel, they come with a higher purchase and installation cost than many other options, and can be rather costly to run.

HEAT PUMP HYDRONIC PANEL

Hydronic heat pumps use water to distribute heating and cooling. Instead of using fans to push air through the home, hydronic systems pump hot water through sealed pipes to radiators throughout the home. They are very affordable to run, but do come with a medium to high cost outlay to purchase and install.

HEAT PUMP HYDRONIC FLOOR HEATING

Hydronic floor heat pumps follow the same principles as hydronic heating panels, however, they distribute the warm water through tubing in the floor or baseboards. Just like their panel equivalent, they are quite affordable to run, but come with relatively high cost for purchasing and installing.

CAN I HAVE A FIREPLACE IN A PASSIVE HOUSE?

Fireplaces are very popular for not only adding warmth to a house, but especially a nice and comfy atmosphere that you can also enjoy in your new passive house. However, there are a few things to note.

One of the key factors in passive house design is regulating the air temperature inside the home. This is achieved through good insulation, limiting the airflow in and out of the building. An open fire, however, needs oxygen, so having an open fireplace in a passive home could lead to reduced oxygen levels, which can quickly become dangerous.

Also, a penetration in the ceiling such as a chimney or flue would be a giant hole in the airtight layer around the house, leading to the home no longer performing to passive house standard.

That is why passive houses with a fireplace are designed to draw air in from outside to feed the fire. One option to do this is through a room-air independent, slow-combustion fireplace. Another possibility is an airtight wood stove that receives air from outside.

Blogpost 02 Fireplace 02

CONCLUSION

Passive homes are built to minimise the need for conventional heating and cooling, but depending on the individual passive house design and the climate zone of the build, heating options can be added to the home. One of the most common options to power these heating devices are solar panels.

Fireplaces are a popular feature to add additional cosiness to a home’s atmosphere and it is possible to have a fireplace in a passive house. However, due to the airtight membrane around the home, passive house fireplaces should be designed to draw air from outside and not have an open flame inside the house.

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