Why do houses need adequate ventilation

When was the first passive house built? Who invented the passive house? Is “passive house” just a new name for “superinsulated homes”? There are a few comments here, incomplete by nature, but tried to provide a little clarity.

Traditional passive houses

From “Passive Climatisation of Residential Buildings in China” by Bo Adamson

Traditional buildings in southern China. In this climate, the summer is more of a cooling task; Residential houses do not need heating.

In many climatic regions of the world you don't need any heating or active cooling if you build something “sensible” (parts of Iran, the coast of Portugal, parts of southern China, ...). “Passive houses” have always been built there, even if they are not classified as such. This is what Bo Adamson (1990) did, and the question of whether this could be transferred to Europe with technically justifiable means gave rise to the idea for the research project “passive houses”. See [Adamson 1992].

Traditional passive houses in Iceland

Turf houses in Iceland.

In Iceland there was a tradition of “peat turf construction” after the firewood crisis in the Middle Ages. These were passive houses, albeit without adequate windows and insufficient ventilation.

Firewood crisis: In the 17th and 18th centuries, firewood became scarce in Europe due to overexploitation of the forests. The solution here was the mining of coal. This solution did not exist in Iceland. Necessity makes inventive: the Icelanders quickly found out that well-insulated houses stay warm by themselves.

Research vessel Fram was a passive house (!)

From "In Nacht und Eis"

The "Fram", Fridtjof Nansen's polar ship, was a passive house (1893)

The first truly functional and fully-fledged passive house was not a house, but a ship: Fritjof Nansen's Fram (1893).

He himself writes: "... The walls are covered with tarred felt, followed by cork filling, then paneling made of fir wood, then another thick layer of felt, then airtight linoleum and finally another paneling. The blankets ... they are all in all about 40 cm thick. The window, through which the cold could easily penetrate, was protected by triple panes and in other ways. (Here) is a warm, cozy place to stay. Whether the thermometer is 5 ° or 30 ° below zero, we have no fire in the oven. The ventilation is excellent ... as it actually blows fresh winter air down through the fan. I am therefore dealing with the idea of ​​having the stove removed entirely; he's just in the way.
(from Nansen: "In Nacht und Eis", 1897)

Systematic research: Vagn Korsgaard and the DTH zero energy house

The DTH zero energy house on the Copenhagen campus.

The “DTH zero energy house” by Prof. Vagn Korsgaard (Copenhagen, 1973) was also a passive house. Systematic simulations were carried out at the Danish Technical University, designs were optimized and the first such house was built. The property was then used as the university's guest house for many years. However: The active solar technology was not renewed after defects. The “zero energy house” objective was subsequently postponed at the DTH in favor of the “low energy house”.

See [Korsgaard et al 1978].

The experiences from this project flowed into the passive house research from the beginning.

Systematic work in Germany: Bergmann, Bruno, Hermann, Hörster, Steinmüller, Kersten, Klinkenberg and the Philips experimental house

The Philips experiment house (from: Hörster et al)
Parallel to the Scandinavian and American developments, H. Hörster (group leader), B. Steinmüller (building models and simulations) and Dr. Günther Bergmann, Dr. Richard Bruno, Dr. Wilhelm Hermann, Dr. Reinhard Kersten and Ing.Klaus Klinkenberg carried out a systematic study on energy-efficient buildings with funds from the Federal Ministry for Research.

An excellently insulated test house, built in 1974/75 in Aachen, equipped with a geothermal heat exchanger, a controlled ventilation system, solar technology and heat pump technology and "inhabited" by a computer. The experimental house served as a test and experimental laboratory for computer models that were used to investigate the possibilities of energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. These studies showed the potential for energy savings by a factor of 10 to 20 in Europe and America through passive measures alone. They thus provided evidence that these measures are an important step on the way to energy-efficient buildings.

Bernd Steinmüller has been intensively researching efficient buildings since 1997 and continues to be a pioneer and worldwide disseminator of the original ideas.

Experience from this project was incorporated into the passive house research from the start.

Read more: The Philips experimental house: Research 1974ff: Passive versus active measures in Europe & America.

See [Hörster 1980].

North American pioneers: William A. Shurcliff and Wane Shick

Example of a “superinsulated home” in the USA

A whole series of North American developments in the late 1970s and early 1980s (“superinsulated houses”) were very close to the passive house. William A. Shurcliff (1981) has written numerous publications on this.

This work was an important basis for the low-energy and passive houses in Europe.

See [Shurcliff 1980].

Passive at 2164 m altitude: The Rocky Mountains Institute by Amory & Hunter Lovins

The "Rocky Mountains Institute (rmi)" by A. and H. Lovins. (Photo: rmi)

Amory Lovins, known worldwide for his publications on alternative energy pathways, did not stop at theory. At a height of 2164 m in Old Snowmass, Colorado, he built an extremely well insulated and at the same time passive solar house. Tropical vegetation thrives in the winter garden, and the stove is rarely used.

These experiences gave Passive House research the security and confidence that the physics would also work in practice. A. B. Lovins visited the Passive House in Darmstadt Kranichstein in 1995. Lovins suggested that the passive house should not only be seen as a research project, but also as a solution for an energy standard of the future. See [Lovins 1978], [Carlock 1985], [Weizsäcker, Lovins 1995].

The "Nulli" in Dörpe

The “zero energy house” in Dörpe near Hanover.

The "zero energy house" by Erhard Wiers-Keizer and the association "Ökologische Zukunftswerkstatt Minimal- und Nullenergiehäuser e.V." (1989) had arithmetically lower consumption values ​​than a passive house, but unfortunately higher consumption values ​​when in operation. Problems caused the airtightness (unreinforced construction paper), the interior insulation shutters and the solar storage technology. The 10 m³ annual solar storage tank was later removed to make room for a wing. However, the house is still being used - as an “almost passive house”. Robert Borsch Laaks made decisive contributions to the detailed development. See [Hinz 1994].

Many participants from the Passive House research group were involved in this project.

Major problems with the early houses were:

  • The lack of awareness of the need for permanent airtightness. Findings on this were mainly collected in Sweden. Prof. Arne Elmroth is one of the decisive pioneers in this matter.
  • A lack of good solutions for energy-efficient windows (Lovins: "We should have used a better thermal break for the window frames."). As a result, the windows were often small or they had to be covered with temporary insulation, which was a complex process. Both were reasons why the approach was not widely adopted.
  • Lack of reliability of the energy efficiency of the technology used. In many projects, the effect of “technological christmas trees”, a complicated technology, which in the end did not work or did not work for a long time, occurred.

The developments and experiences of many pioneers in Switzerland (e.g. Conrad U. Brunner, Ruedi Kriesi and Josef Jenni) and in Austria (Helmut Krapmeier, Richard Caldonazzi, Sture Larsen) should also be mentioned.

Super low energy houses by Hans Eek

Ingolstadt-Halmstadt: low-energy houses (30 kWh / (m²a) heating demand) in two countries by architect Hans Eek (1985)

In Sweden, the path of the "low-energy house" was taken. They had experience with complicated, unreliable technology early on and learned to do the essentials right: airtightness, very good thermal insulation, good windows, reliable mechanical ventilation. An important pioneer in Sweden is Hans Eek - his life story directly reflects the experiences of building research: From the “technological christmas tree” to the super low-energy house to the passive house. Pictured here are row houses from the German-Swedish Ingolstadt-Halmstad project.
These houses are not passive houses, but it is only a small step towards a passive house.

Hans Eek was and is a cooperation partner in all phases of passive house development.

The energy self-sufficient solar house in Freiburg

The energy self-sufficient solar house of the ISE in Freiburg. Today the building is used like a passive house.

The “energy self-sufficient solar house” (ISE, Freiburg 1991/92, Wilhelm Stahl) was built practically at the same time as the passive house in Darmstadt. It also comes very close to a passive house. The partly very complex self-sufficient supply technology with hydrogen storage was no longer operated after the end of the measurement period. The passive techniques and the heat recovery have proven themselves very well. Today, the ISE is testing passive house compact heaters for their suitability under practical conditions.

The Passive House Group exchanged ideas with ISE and Wilhelm Stahl during the construction of the projects and mutual support was provided.

The Passive House Darmstadt Kranichstein

Passive House Kranichstein, south view

From 1988/89, a team of scientists, headed by Wolfgang Feist, dealt with the “Pre-Construction Research Project Passive Houses” - an international cooperation in which Bo Adamson and Gerd Hauser were also involved. With funding from the State of Hesse, the conditions for energy-efficient houses were systematically researched and prototypes of new components were developed and manufactured, including insulated window frames, reduced thermal bridges and CO2-controlled ventilation. According to plans by Prof. Bott / Ridder / Westermeyer, four terraced house units were built in 1990/91 by a private community of builders. The houses have been inhabited normally since 1991. An accompanying measurement program promoted knowledge about highly insulating components, windows, ventilation heat recovery, user behavior, indoor air quality, the amount of internal heat sources and much more.

Passive House Kranichstein, north view

Under normal residential use, this project confirmed the perfect function of all essential components - and this has remained undisturbed to this day. The measured energy consumption for heating has been steadily lower than 10 kWh / (m²a) for 25 years, the savings compared to traditional buildings are thus more than 90%. Very good air quality was measured and the high level of thermal comfort was confirmed by field measurements and user surveys.

Most of the components (e.g. insulated window frames) in this project were individually handcrafted special solutions; Their perfect function was the decisive reason to start series production of components of this quality.

See [Feist 1992], [Feist, Werner 1994].


As described on the passive house definition page, the passive house is a concept for maximum comfort with very low heating energy requirements - the precise definition is:

"A passive house is a building in which thermal comfort (ISO 7730) can be guaranteed by reheating or cooling the fresh air volume flow, which is necessary for adequate air quality (DIN 1946) - without using additional circulating air."

This definition is purely functional, does not contain any numerical values ​​and applies to every climate. The definition shows that it is not about an arbitrarily set standard, but about a fundamental concept.

So the passive house was not invented - rather the passive house principle was discovered.

It is not uncommon in history that principles have been applied before one was aware of them. Many institutions and people were involved in the discovery. Without everyone, an important piece would have been missing from the puzzle. Any list is incomplete, as scientific papers always build on many previous results without being aware of them. The opponents were also always important: people who made it clear that they did not believe in this approach at all. They helped sharpen the mind and work out the principle more clearly.

“Passive house” is also not just a new name for “superinsulated houses”, although a passive house in cold climatic regions is usually very similar to a super insulated house. The passive house concept does not prescribe the technology with which the functional goal is achieved. “Passive Solar Homes” of old provenance can also be the basis for a functioning passive house. “Passive Solar Homes” and “Superinsulated Houses” have long been understood by their respective proponents as competing concepts. Robert Hastings, pioneer of American “passive solar architecture”, made a decisive contribution to overcoming these contradictions.

See also


[Adamson 1992] Adamson, B. "Passive Climatisation of Residential Buildings in China", Lund University, Report TABK-92/3006 (1992)

[Korsgaard et al 1978] DTH-Nul-Energihus; Technical University of Denmark, 1978

[Hörster 1980] H. Hörster (Ed.): Paths to an energy-saving house; Hamburg, 1980

[Shurcliff 1980] Super Insulated Houses and Double Envelope Houses, Brick House, Andover, 1st edition 1981

[Lovins 1978] Lovins, A. & H .: Gentle Energy, Hamburg 1978

[Carlock 1985] Carlock, M .: A Solid Stand on Solar Battlements; in Solar Age, Jan 1985, pp. 19-22

[Weizsäcker, Lovins 1995] Weizsäcker, U .; Lovins, A. & H .: Faktor Vier, Munich 1995

[Hinz 1994] Hinz, E. et al: Measurement data acquisition and evaluation at the ecological zero-energy house Dörpe, Institut Wohnen und Umwelt, Darmstadt, 1994

[Feist 1992] Feist, W. (Ed.): Preparatory research project for passive houses; IWU, Darmstadt, 1992

[Feist, Werner 1994] Feist, W. and Werner, J .: "Total energy value <32 kWh / (m²a)"; Federal Building Gazette 2/1994

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