The technology behind passive houses can be confusing, so we’re cutting straight to the good stuff: The biggest benefits of this energy-efficient construction method

Joanna Linberg

1. Low monthly energy use—and big savings

The most obvious upside to a home that heats and cools itself without an air conditioner or a furnace is the monthly energy costs: They’re typically close to zero. “There is no downside to a building that uses less energy than its code-compliant equivalent,” San Francisco builder Ewen Utting. And Utting notes that passive construction doesn’t take much more in terms of effort, energy, or materials to create a building that performs at its full efficiency potential.

2. High indoor air quality

“Conventional buildings don’t give you much control over the ventilation because they’re not airtight,” Utting says. As a result, the toxins and particulates from windy days, pollution-spewing trucks driving by, and every piece of off-gassing furniture you own tend to collect and recirculate in your home. “In a passive house, the air is completely and methodically exchanged for fresh, filtered air 24 hours a day,” Utting says. The result: Without any effort on your part, potential toxins are given the boot before they reach unhealthy levels.

3. Less sneezing and less cleaning

Since a passive home has a killer ventilation system, it filters out pollen quickly—a major bonus for anyone with allergies. The airtight building also lets far less dust in (and filters out what ends up in the air), meaning less time spent cleaning.

4. A totally quiet house

Another benefit of airtightness is sound quality. When the doors and windows are shut, the house is almost completely silent. Even ambient noise is reduced since there isn’t central air turning off and on.

5. Flexibility in building materials

Are you super into reclaimed wood? Or obsessed with recycled denim insulation? Or just really into using as many local materials as possible? Great. With a passive home, you’re not restricted to a certain set of certified materials. “The passive house is a performance-based standard,” Utting explains. “How you meet the performance criteria is entirely up to you.” Local and sustainable materials are encouraged, but you (and your builder) have full flexibility to make the materials choices that make sense for your location and budget.

6. A future-proofed home

While no one can predict exactly where residential building codes will go in the next few decades, the trend is clear: The code will require more energy efficiency and better resource management. By building passive now, your home will more than likely still be compliant in 30, or even 50 years, Utting says.

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