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Passive House and the pivot to Asia

A Passive House settlement in Qingdao by Frey Architekten
A Passive House settlement in Qingdao by Frey Architekten

Passive House is bursting out from its European roots and making a big impact in China, a move that promises to further accelerate the adoption of Passive House in warmer climates.


The 22nd International Passive House Conference wrapped up on Saturday in Munich. With well over 1000 attendees, over a quarter of whom were from China, the event was abuzz with the rumour (now confirmed) that the next conference would venture outside of Europe for the first time to Gaobeidian in China’s Hebei Province.

Dr Wolfgang Feist, the founder of the Passive House movement, made the announcement in the final session, explaining the scale of certified Passive House projects underway in China and the desire for the Passive House Institute to support them.

Projects underway include a 40,000 unit development in Gaobeidian itself, a technology park dedicated to energy efficiency in construction; and a 24,000 square metre certified Passive House window manufacturing plant that makes … certified Passive House windows!

The expansion to China will further accelerate the adoption of Passive House in warmer climates. Many of the conference events focused on cooling and dehumidification – the Passive House Institute presenting various papers on their research into the area. The use of split-system airconditioners was well covered with research showing that continual operation with set points was more efficient than on/off cycling. Thermal mass got the tick as a useful tool for shifting cooling demand to later in the day for drier warm climates, and ceiling fans rated a mention for cooling people (but, unsurprisingly, not buildings).

The Europeans (as usual) were heavily focused on energy efficiency to meet their carbon targets whereas many of the North American projects, Canadian in particular, put the emphasis on comfort, claiming that their energy prices were too low for a persuasive argument to be made.

Retrofits featured frequently in the talks, including some beautiful projects from NK Architects in Pittsburgh that were delivered through a competitive tender process, achieving lower construction costs than non-Passive House projects.

Wolfgang Feist tackled the performance gap issue head on, identifying three gaps: the performance gap, the declaration gap and the “keep track of” gap.

He argued the performance gap could be addressed through professional training of designers and contractors. The declaration gap is especially topical in light of recent issues with product compliance, Feist suggesting that Passive House certified products are one way to guarantee quality. The keeping track of gap, also known as “get what you pay for”, can be addressed through quality certification, again another topical issue that rang true to the Australian in the audience.

Nick Grant, a UK designer, made a compelling argument for “value engineering” as a positive aspect of his projects. With Passive House as a core functional requirement, he then defines value as function divided by cost. The Passive House certification happens as it is core to the brief and any value engineering either increases function for no additional cost or leaves function unchanged but for lower cost. If value engineering is an increase in value (what else can it be) then one of these two scenarios must be true.

The highlight of most conferences is the interactions with the other delegates, some long held friends, others new acquaintances. The IPHC was no different. Learning from other Passive House affiliate organisations around the world about how they are advancing the Passive House movement was both inspirational and informative.

Expect to see a surge in uptake in Australia, Canada and America in the next few years while Spain has several great projects in the bank already and more on the books.

Andy Marlow is a director of the Australian Passive House Association and Envirotecture. The South Pacific Passive House Conference will be held in Melbourne on 4-5 May 2018.

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