Why Is Passive Design Important?

Passive design is gaining importance in the design of our buildings and houses, but not everyone understands why is it so. In this article, we will be explaining why is passive design important. 

There are five main reasons why passive design is so important. These are: 

1. Passive design reduces energy used

2. Passive design creates a healthy interior living environment

3. Passive design reduces the environmental impact

4. Passive design maximizes the impact of the resources used

5. Passive design simplifies the management and maintenance of the building

Let’s take a closer look at these five reasons to understand why passive design is so important.

1. Passive design reduces energy used

One of the biggest benefits of passive design is the ability to reduce the amount of electricity you will be consuming. If your house is kept warmer and cooler through the clever use of the natural environment, you won’t need to pay as much for heating. Also, more natural sunlight will reduce the amount that you need to spend on lighting. 

In many cases, the difference between actively and passively designed homes will be dramatic. Energy reduction for passive designed houses can be up to 80% compared to the average house.

As high as this reduction might seem, this is actually a standard figure in net-zero buildings. Net-zero buildings are designed with the aim of having a neutral or positive impact on the environment by reducing as much as possible the energy required and creating that energy through renewable sources.

If you would like to learn a bit more about net-zero buildings, I can recommend the book “The New Net Zero: Leading-Edge Design and Construction of Homes and Buildings for a Renewable Energy Future“. You can find it on Amazon by clicking here.

Going back to the energy reduction, this is achieved differently depending on the season and on the weather of the site.

For example, in winter in cold places, a comfortable interior temperature is achieved mostly through a tightly insulated building that keeps the interior temperature stable. In addition to that, a carefully designed facade will allow for solar gain in sunny but cold days, helping heat up the interior without having to use a heater.

On the other hand, if you live in a warm and humid climate, the focus will be on getting good ventilation through your building. By having the air passing and creating a current, comfort will be higher. In addition to that, good solar protection will ensure that the building does not get solar gain when the sun is really hiting.

On warm climates, a well insulated building, together with careful planing for solar protection, can help keep the temperature surprisingly low.

2. Passive design creates a healthy interior living environment

Passive design will also be able to create a healthier living environment. There are a few ways that it does this. 

First, it ensures that you don’t need to rely on mechanical heaters. These can dry out the air. This can often lead to a few health problems. For example, you might start to develop breathing problems or get nose bleeds. In other cases, drier air can cause your skin to become itchy. Passive design helps ensure that these problems don’t occur. 

While active design can rely on a heating and cooling system to move air through the house, this isn’t the case with passive heating.

Passive design uses air pressures to regulate the flow of air through the house. There will often be inlets built into the property. They allow the outside air to flow in. The cold air will want to flow into an environment that has warmer air. This will create a natural equilibrium. When the room starts to heat up again, the hot air will rise through a vent in the ceiling, and move back outside. The way that the vent is angled will determine how much air will be able to flow through it.

Unlike active heating, you won’t need to use any mechanical systems to force the air through the house. It will do this naturally. This reduces the amount of noise, creating a quiet environment.  

Passive design also places a greater emphasis on getting natural light. This is achieved by incorporating skylights and windows into the building. This can have several benefits for the homeowner. First, it can make you more productive and help you maintain a positive attitude. This can be a big benefit if you are working from home. Many people are increasingly ranking the ability to get natural light as one of the most important things they want in their workplace.

If you would like to know how a house should be designed so that natural light is maximized, be sure to check our post “Which Side of a House Gets the Most Sun?“.

3. Passive design reduces the environmental impact

Passive design is so important because it places a lot of emphasis on the local environment. A careful study of the site is mandatory for any successful passive design. Without understanding the site, knowing where the sun comes from, where the natural winds come from, a passive house cannot be designed.

This knowledge ensures that there will be less unnecessary environmental damage during the building process. It will also help you create a thriving ecosystem. In some cases, additional greenery might be planted in order to help with the passive design strategies, such as creating a microclimate, cooling the house, helping with the breezes or even blocking a bit of noise.

In addition to a lower environmental impact on the site itself, by making a building that requires less energy as we mentioned on point 1, you will inevitably have a lower environmental impact.

Even if you power your house with renewable sources, all energy that needs to be created has an impact. Only the production of the product that creates the energy (such as solar panels) has an impact. So, it will always be better to design a house that requires less energy because that will mean less solar panels need to be manufactured in order to power your house.

So, as you can see, passive design helps reduce the environmental impact both of the specific site it is located in and of the general environment.

If you would like to see a few examples of sustainable projects and how the passive design is integrated into them, be sure to have a look at our post “What are Examples of Sustainable Design?“.

4. Passive design maximizes the impact of the resources used

Also, a passive building will make the most of all the elements used. Since the building needs to run as passively as possible, the elements used usually serve a purpose and are as efficient as possible.

One of the best examples of this is the way that skylights are placed. They have been put into the best possible space, to give you the most natural light and to help with the ventilation of the space.

The careful design continues inside the house. For example, the rooms have been designed to allow air to flow through them comfortably. Each room has been carefully insulated, to retain as much heat as possible. In most cases, these choices will be made when the house has been initially constructed. 

However, if you have an existing house, there are still some ways that you’ll be able to apply the passive design principles and lower your electricity bill. For example, you might be able to make the window glazing thicker. Another good idea is to plant trees or install eaves to add more shade. A more expensive solution but that will make the most difference is to insulate properly all the building envelope (that is, walls and roof).

Often, the type of actions that you will be able to take will depend on the type of property that you have and how much you are willing to spend. For example, some existing houses might require extensive remodelling to apply some aspects of passive design, like changing the orientation or adding skylights. But, even with a low budget, small steps can be taken in order to make your house a bit more passive.

If you would like to understand a bit more how the way you build can have an impact on the materials you use and on the waste you produce, be sure to check our post “How Do You Build a Sustainable House?“.

5. Passive design simplifies the management and maintenance of the building

Last, but not least, a passive design will simplify the management and maintenance of the building. By using nature to the building’s advantage, you need fewer mechanical parts to make the interior environment comfortable.

For example, as far as heating and cooling is concerned, in many parts of the world, a good passive design will eliminate the need for any mechanical heating or cooling. Only with good insulation, good ventilation and good design, the interior temperature can be kept at a comfortable level. So, complex heating or cooling systems do not need to be used, which makes the maintenance of the building much easier.

Another example would be lighting. By designing a building with the natural light in mind, you reduce the need for artificial light. While not as complex as heating or cooling systems, artificial light needs in any case more maintenance than natural light. With natural light, you know it will always be there. With artificial light, a bulb might get broken or a plug might not be working.

Thanks to all this, apart from having to worry less about maintenance, you will lower your future repair bills. 

These benefits are becoming more important to home buyers. Because of this, we are seeing a strong increase in the prices for homes that incorporate passive design. It’s estimated that homes that incorporate passive design will sell for a premium of 4 to 10%, compared to ones that use active design. This trend is expected to continue, and grow, over time. 

Now that we have learned why is passive design important, let’s have a look a bit more in detail at what passive design is and all the different parts that are involved in it.

Final Thoughts

Passive design is based on the idea of embracing nature during the construction process. When done correctly, passive design can create a building that stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter. There are several reasons why this is so important.

First, it will allow you to reduce the amount that you need to pay for your electricity bills. Second, it will create a healthier interior environment. Third, it will reduce the environmental impact. Fourth, it will maximize the impact of the resources used. And fifth, it will simplify the management and maintenance of the building.

If you liked this post and you would like to learn a bit more about passive design, be sure to check “What is Passive Displacement Ventilation?” & “What is the Meaning of Passive Design?“.

Recent Posts