The Beginnings and Pioneers of the Passive House

Chalet roofs for traditional homes in Iceland


For example, in the worst climatic zones more actual is cooling aspect than heating. If you look at traditional buildings in different regions, then traditional Chinese houses, Irish houses, Portuguese homes perfectly perform a cooling function without an active cooling system. In cooler climatic conditions a great resolution is to have Icelandic people, by covering house roofs with shafts, because the timber in medieval times was the deficit, so they had to find different solutions. The standard parts of the passive houses are adaptable to the climate and the region, and therefore not be regarded as a construction style, but a method that respects the region’s traditional construction and climatic conditions. Since the objective in any climatic conditions and location on the globe is one – to achieve comfortable living conditions indoors (regardless of whether the premises should be heated or frozen), the only difference is that in some places it will be easier to reach, but in others, it will be harder.

What is the most significant, when planning passive house?

  • Heating insulation;
  • Air and steam impervious construction;
  • The other building services: ventilation, heating and cooling equipment etc.

What are the main principles of the nowadays passive house?

Knowing nowadays passive house main principles, it is possible to find characteristics in earlier projects and researches, which tend to move closer to the passive house idea. When answering the question, the main principle is the building envelope. An envelope includes the fully closed heating insulation layer, which goes through all the house by not letting heating loss and, air impervious layer, which provides heating insulation layer hermetic. An envelope main requirement is to be closed, continuous. Consequently, thermal bridges also have a detrimental effect on building construction.

Passive House Criteria:


the main source of energy is renewable energy (renewable energy), which includes options for using it in full or in part;

classical, plus, premium class (depending on the PER level and the generation of renewable energy, the building is divided into one of three classes: for example, premium includes low PER and a high level of renewable energy production);

globally applicable standards (criteria adapted to any climatic conditions, all energy standards, building types);

low energy building (criterion suitable for buildings where unplanned deviation from passive house requirements occurred during construction);



Research on the passive house standard

The inspiration for the complete enclosure of the living room was found in the construction of a polar ship – the first fully functioning passive house was, in fact, a polar ship, rather than a house called “Frams” (Fridtjof Nansen, 1893). For the complete sealing of the vessel for polar conditions, the following means are used:

  • carrot felt
  • cork padding
  • pine wood panels
  • thick felt layer
  • airtight linoleum
  • interior decoration

The total wall thickness has reached 15 inches – 38.1 cm! Light sources were placed behind 3-glass glass panes. Regardless of the outside air temperature, the furnace has not been heated indoors.

The findings from many and different projects have led to the passive domestic standard that exists today. Systematic research on passive homes begins with the “DTH zero-energy home” (Prof. Vagn Korsgaard, 1973, Copenhagen, Denmark). This building can reasonably be perceived as a passive house built on the basis of simulations and optimized design options. Later the building was used for the needs of campus hospitals. As the solar panels are ineffective at this time, the house is more closely aligned with the earth energy home.

In parallel with Scandinavian and Canadian studies, research is also being conducted in Germany under the leadership of H. Hörster and B. Steinmüller. Under the leadership of the research group, in 1974-75, a markedly insulated experimental building, equipped with a ground-based heat pump, controlled ventilation, solar and heat collectors, and a computerized test-out of records, which highlights energy efficiency and the use of renewable resources, is being built. Thus, significant numbers are shown that demonstrate the importance of a passive building towards the construction of energy-efficient buildings.

North American research projects (“super-insulated houses”) in the 70’s and 80’s were very close to the principles of modern passive houses. They include the Saskatchewan House, which is discussed further in this article.

A sealed building (A. and H. Amory Lovins), supplemented with solar panels and conservatory, is being built at 2164 meters in America, Colorado. In the construction of the Rocky Mountains Institute, physicists’ findings were used to prove that they are practicable in practice. Like A.B. Louvins suggested moving passive houses from research projects to a new level, creating a separate energy standard for the future.

Early passive houses have similar problems:

  • lack of understanding about that, how important is tightness (the only information comes from Sweden);
  • lack of solutions for good performance of windows, as a result are small size windows of there is temporary heating insulation;
  • lack of trust for used technologies in case of energy efficiency, where there are complicated solutions, which were not effective or they functioned for the short time.


In a 1977 year there were built Saskatchewan Conservation House, which where the first long lasting, passive and energy efficient house in Canada. Ecological considerations and building of the passive house is deeply connected with a wooden carcass house building nowadays. Renewable nature resources – timber go hand in hand with a definition of long lasting. To reduce costs during the exploitation of the house it is necessary to insulate wooden carcass house, wooden panel house, wooden panel house. It is also necessary to eliminate all the cold bridges, have to create airtight environment.

The reason, why there were created an idea to save energy, is very easy – in 1973 year the cost on the oil raised, everybody started to consider an idea and variations, how to reduce energy costs, Saskatchewan province government gave a task for the research group (Saskatchewan Research Council – SRC) to project and build a house, which will be heated with a solar energy and will be appropriate for Saskatchewan conditions. To fulfill this task being appropriate for conditions, the research group connected with experienced builders and projectors.

The planned construction site of the city, Regina, is characterized by a cold climate, few sunny days in winter months, low sunlight, and low solar energy from November to March. That’s why to build a self-sufficient house in conditions like these is a real challenge. The conclusion of the research group during all the research work were like these – it is impossible to build a house, where a primary energy source is sun, but it is possible to build conserving house, which fits Saskatchewan conditions. When maximum reducing heating losses, for each dollar spent, thermal insulation saves about $ 10 at the expense of solar panel collectors and equipment to provide the same level of comfort. Further we will examine Saskatchewan house heating insulation in different constructions.

Ceiling heating insulation

To provide a proper heating insulation, constructively energy effective construction solution is high heel trusses, which is possible to insulate without cold bridges, as far as attic. Due to time it has to be admitted. That insulation can sit down, so it has to be laid out in a thicker layer than it is necessary for the building norms. Also a significant role is house south facade side against the sky and a roof optimal angle, which is appropriate for the solar energy collector necessities.

Heating insulation of walls

In the heating insulation of walls there are different ways, how to provide maximum insulation:

  • it is possible to use thicker stud to put in thicker layer of the insulation,
  • you can use hardening foam insulation outside the walls (which is mentioned as a more expensive option than mineral wool and expensive wall costs);
  • for the wall insulation it is possible to use air/steam barrier – the film being incorporated into the walls,
  • walls can be constructed on a double plate, taking into account a thorough thermal insulation. There are several benefits to these walls: the inner walls become part of the structure, the vapor barrier can be applied outside the walls, avoiding additional insulation for different openings, the thickness of the plan wood chipboard or OSB is used.

In a Saskatchewan house there is in use double plate wall system with an air, steam impervious barrier wall in an outside.


As far as the city Regina is characterized with a clay ground, projectors mention foundation construction as the most problematic in every building of this region. To avoid damages of the house during the exploitation, the most appropriate foundations for the Saskatchewan house building are concrete pile foundations. The question is, how to insulate foundations of this type? Between the floor beams there are cellulose fiber by insulating a living room from the underground.


In building of the Saskatchewan house, when choosing each material, you have to take into an account available materials during the building process. The windows in the window assortment resembled non-glazed window panes. In the case of the Saskatchewan house, the windows used are located on the southern side by fitting the windows on the outside of the closets. It, of course, disturbed a visibility through the big windows, so closets were in use very rarely. Another significant condition in the use of closets – the window has to be opened fully to have an ability to close fully the closets. To not lose heat, on the upper floor closets were projected to slide horizontally into the wall.

Passive house energy efficient characteristics

Despite the fact, that ventilation with a heating recovery is an invention of the last years, in a Saskatchewan house there were a system such like this by using a simple principle, that a warm air goes up. Despite the fact that a passive house is fully closed and works as the whole, there is also a wind turbine, which don’t lets to come in the cold air.

Roof overhangs are so wide and so steep that, according to the season, would allow or prevent sunlight from entering large windows. In the north side of the house there are big trees, which provides a natural protective barrier against the north wind, but in the south side by facade taking as much as possible solar light, there are no any tree or other big plants. To protect solar collectors from the snow, there are special roof extensions, and for a proper maintaining between the collectors there is an entrance.


Saskatchewan house – a revolutionary perspective on the problems of the age

The building as a pioneer started it revolution in the building not only in Canada, bet also later in the other world architecture.

After the Saskatchewan sample, the thermal insulation and thermal transmittance of the windows are considered, this is the beginning of a three-pane glazing filled with argon gas and hermetically sealed window frames. It is intended for external doors thermal insulation, recyclable air circulation – using recuperative systems. Installing steam insulation on the outside of the walls, in ceilings and in the fixing ceilings, seal the building even more.

To conclude, the revolutionary perspective on new building design and requirements was at the moment very topical. In order for the society as a whole to become accountable to the environment and reduce its harm, it is necessary to start individually. And which may be a better reason, if not cost savings in the long run. Passive wooden frame house is a great option for a family home, public building, or non-residential buildings. Take a look at the magnificent family house built in the US, Colorado, following passive home standards. An energy efficient, environmentally friendly and at the same time customer-friendly pay-per-view solution completely rejects the stereotype of a standard-compliant building as an ugly or standardized design. Design options, on the contrary, are endless!