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Mechanical Air Circulation Does Heating, Cooling in Passivhaus

PassivHouseA concept for residential construction in Europe is becoming more popular as heating costs rise. The Passivhaus could be considered a close cousin to its American counterpart, the net-zero energy building movement.

As reported in The Guardian, the institutional looking Passivhaus standard was developed in Germany in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist. The standard is based on a principle that homes can remain at an ambient temperature of around 20C (68F) with minimal heating or cooling.

The building does the work, rather than additional renewable energy systems, like solar panels and ground-source heat-pumps. Super-high insulation, absolute air-tightness and harvesting the sun’s energy through south-facing windows are featured, with the aim to keep as much heat inside the home as possible.

A mechanical ventilation heat recovery unit – MVHR heat-exchange system – is used to circulate air from warmer rooms in the house to heat fresh air coming in. Heat is harvested from occupants and their devices, like TVs, computers, stoves and showers.

According to the Passivhaus concept, the house is a victim of several myths, including that if the windows don’t open suffocation is risked if the MVHR breaks down.

The first Passivhaus homes looked a little like a portable classroom block, a clunky aesthetic which these ultra-low energy houses have struggled to shake off since. But standards are improving as more architects take up the challenge, and some housing associations are taking the lead, with the incentive of keeping bills down.

In the United States, the concept of net-zero energy buildings has gained traction. Typically, building owners and developers that aspire to net-zero-energy goals do so for a combination of reasons, including financial gain, public relations and responsiveness to stakeholder concerns. Most net-zero-energy buildings employ on-site or off-site solar power systems together with other energy savings technologies.

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