With the United States having a goal of a net-zero economy by the year 2050, there has been an increased interest in the construction of passive homes. And while achieving the low energy standards for a passive house may seem like a lofty goal, it can be greatly facilitated by using the correct materials and construction techniques. To help in this regard, keep reading to find out 5 of the best ideas for building a passive house!
1. Eliminate Any Thermal Bridges
Heat will always follow the path of least resistance. And when there are highly conductive elements of the building envelope, such as at ceiling junctions, verges, eaves, and mounting brackets, heat will find these “thermal bridges” and move in an unwanted direction, coming into the home during the summer and leaving the home during the winter.
As such, a thermal bridge-free design is one of the first steps builders must take when designing a passive house. Some ways to eliminate thermal bridges are to fill cracks in concrete framing, use insulative covers for metal fasteners found in the building envelope, and installing thermal breaks in balconies that pass through the home’s insulation.
2. Take Steps To Improve Airflow
It may seem contradictory to advise eliminating thermal bridging and then suggest taking steps to improve airflow. However, there is a world of difference between unwanted air transfer and healthy, systematic airflow.
While unwanted airflow can wreak havoc on energy bills, a controlled, efficient flow of air is paramount in achieving a passive house. When air is not flowing efficiently, energy must be consumed to make up the difference. Some ideas for improving airflow are to regularly service the HVAC ducts to ensure that no air is being trapped or lost, installing ventilated soffit panels to keep the attic from becoming hot and stale, and utilizing window screens to allow the exterior breeze to cool the home on warm days.
3. Shore Up Potential Problem Areas
As mentioned, heat likes to follow the path of least resistance. This will usually manifest itself when areas of the home degrade and allow for unwanted air transfer.
When building, it is critical to look at potential problem areas and take preemptive measures. Figure out how to install aluminum trim coil to fortify the home’s fascia, choose vinyl or aluminum window casings over more problematic wood products, and reinforce the door trim by applying sealants as necessary.
4. Select the Most Durable Materials
A major component of ensuring a passive house is choosing materials that will not degrade and allow unwanted energy transfer. For example, wood must be regularly painted or treated to maintain its insulative properties, while masonry products must be consistently sealed to prevent cracking due to moisture absorption.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of durable building materials that can maintain their airtight, waterproof properties with little or no maintenance. Some examples include steel log and fiber cement board and batten siding; composite roofing tiles made of a mixture of fiberglass, asphalt and recycled paper; and aluminum or vinyl window frames.
5. Leverage the Sun As Much As Possible
It is obvious that solar panels are one of the best steps homeowners can take for reducing energy consumption and achieving a passive house.
However, there are other ways to leverage the sun’s vast energy potential even further. Some ideas include:
- Building with a south-facing orientation so that the most heavily occupied rooms, such as the kitchen and living area, receive the most exposure to the sun
- Installing large windows to increase the amount of sunlight introduced to the home
- Employing an open concept in the home’s interior that uses fewer walls to promote natural light flow throughout the home
- Choosing Low-E, smart glass, and other innovative window technology to better control the sun’s heat waves
- Using light-colored walls that better reflect sunlight to achieve a brighter house
Keep in mind that it is also possible to receive too much sun, so it is also worthwhile to build with sun mitigation in mind to help eliminate the need for air conditioning. Some ways to achieve this are through attached louvered pergolas, adjustable awnings, window treatments, and interior screen panels.
Use These Materials and Techniques To Build Passive Homes Faster
Achieving the low energy standards of a passive home may seem like a serious undertaking. And while the process definitely takes some planning and commitment, choosing the correct materials and techniques is a great way to streamline the process. Some ideas along these lines include eliminating thermal bridges in the building envelope, taking steps to improve airflow efficiency, shoring up potential problem areas before they rear their ugly heads, selecting the most durable building materials on the market, and leveraging the sun as much as possible. When employed in conjunction, these 5 ideas can help homeowners see their energy consumption approach zero!
Max Shafer is a contributor to the Innovative Building Materials blog. He is a content writer for the construction and home improvement industries with an interest in landscaping, outdoor remodeling, and interior design. Max is focused on educating homeowners, contractors, and architects on innovative materials and methods of construction that increase property value, improve sustainability, and create a warm and welcoming ambiance.