Passive house vs. passive solar: The main differences explained

by | Mar 18, 2021 | Designs, Performance

Many Australians have stumbled across the term passive solar design, but only few are familiar with the concept of a passive house. However, due to the perceived similarity of the words, they are often used interchangeably, when in reality, they are two very different approaches to energy efficient building design. Read on if you want to become a smartass that can set people straight at the next dinner party – or just to learn more about the main differences between passive house and passive solar design.


The concept of passive houses, or Passivhaus in German, originated in Germany in the 1980s and was developed to increase a home’s functionality, while significantly reducing its energy consumption. Ever since then, passive house design has been adapted in countries all over the world—and is also well suited to Australia’s varied weather.

The design process relies on a range of considerations and techniques to be as energy efficient as possible while creating healthy and comfortable living conditions. This is achieved by:

  • Increasing a home’s insulation
  • Eliminating air leaks and thermal bridges
  • Utilising a home’s thermal mass
  • Considering a house’s orientation
  • Using double or triple glazed windows
  • Ensuring proper ventilation

You can learn more about the elements of a passive house here.

To ensure that all the rules for passive house design are met, there is an extensive certification process. So, you are only allowed to call your home a passive house, if it is actually certified. One of the official bodies in charge of handing out passive house certifications is the Australian Passive House Institute, who work with a range of accredited building certifiers.


Passive solar design is a broad umbrella term that describes a range of different measures to increase a home’s energy efficiency and comfortableness without following the rigid rules of passive house design.

So, passive solar design basically takes some of the approaches and standards of passive home design to increase the performance, but it doesn’t meet all the criteria you would need to have a certified passive home.

You can look at it this way: Passive solar design follows all the guidelines and rules for residential construction, and then adds in some smart optimisations to have better insulation and a more comfortable indoor home. But it does not offer the high standard and guaranteed performance of a certified passive home.

To make matters a bit more clear, here are the main differences in a comprehensive overview:

passivhaus australia 2

We here at OUTLIER offer both building design approaches, but would recommend passive home over passive solar design, because we believe in the longevity, guaranteed energy efficiency, and increased level of comfort this design practice provides—it’s good for you, and it’s good for our planet.

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