What The Passive House Market Means for Retrofit Contractors | Energy Circle

The State of the Passive House Market & What It Means for Retrofit Contractors

Homebuyers of nearly every generation are looking for homes that are easy and affordable to maintain, and passive homes fit the bill perfectly. As these impressively efficient properties increase in popularity and availability, unique third-party organizations like the Passive House Institute US Inc. will be increasingly helpful and worth watching.

Ready to learn more about the current state of the passive house movement? Read on!

What Is the Passive House Movement?

The passive house movement took off in the 1970s when the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the Canadian government partnered to fund the creation of a passive house performance standard.

From there, the concept took off around the world, most notably in Germany in the 80s, but it was soon understood that a universal standard was impossible—factors like climate and lifestyle vary too much across regions for a one-size-fits-all solution.

Since 2003, non-profit organization PHIUS (Passive House Institute US, Inc.) has been “committed to making high-performance passive building the mainstream market standard,” and with that goal comes a lot of responsibilities. As confirmed by their website, the organization:

  • Trains and certifies professionals

  • Maintains the PHIUS+ climate-specific passive building standard

  • Certifies and quality assures passive buildings

  • Conducts research to advance high-performance building

Today, PHIUS is the North American leader in setting passive building standards, which is why we were so honored to speak with PHIUS team members Jennie Eber and James Ortega this week to learn more about the passive house market.

What Is the Goal of the Passive House Movement?

The passive house movement aims to support the advancement of efficient building technology, especially residential homes, as a component of the long-term goal of making net zero buildings commonplace. Passive homes are built to be so efficient that they make minimal impact on the world around them and use few resources to be very comfortable.

Homes are made up of many different kinds of systems, all of which use energy. Inefficient homes with gaps and insufficient insulation are vulnerable to draftiness, moisture, polluted outdoor air, and more. Heating and cooling systems tend to use the most energy and are often most at risk of overworking to compensate for a home’s inefficiencies, so they are a major consideration in the passive house movement.

A passive home has a soundly sealed building envelope, efficient thermal performance in the heat and cold, very low utility costs, and is durable and reliable, making day-to-day living low stress. As an added bonus, ample insulation and air sealing make passive homes quiet and relaxing as well.

Prospective homebuyers are increasingly interested in homes that are easy to live in. Passive homes fit the bill perfectly by their very nature, meaning that a certified passive home can achieve a higher value than a comparable property without the same certification.

The Future of Passive Buildings

Multi-family Homes

Passive upgrades for multi-family homes are exponentially increasing in popularity, partly because of state incentive programs. Additionally, it is feasible to achieve price parity with around a 2% margin per square foot when building a passive multi-family dwelling compared with the price per square foot of traditional construction.

The Commercial Sector

Schools and other commercial buildings will continue to be increasingly interested and invested in reducing costs to run the buildings they will need for decades to come. This can be easily achieved by embracing the passive building movement sooner rather than later.

Single-family Homes

Because single-family homes aren’t as dense as multi-family buildings, they don’t have as many internal gains, which can make it more difficult to achieve price parity per square foot when comparing passive versus traditional construction. Windows also tend to be the most expensive upgrade per square foot, and replacing the custom windows that are so common in single-family homes can increase costs.

That said, interest in single-family properties is pretty consistent year-over-year. Though there was a small downturn amidst COVID-19’s peak in 2020, it seems to have been temporary as interest in retrofitting a traditional home to be passive is already back on track for 2021.

“Pretty Good” Houses vs. Full Passive Homes

When it comes to the line between fully passive houses versus “pretty good” houses, PHIUS recognizes the reality that not every home is going to be able to board the passive house train. Still, PHIUS Certification Manager James Ortega feels that “any progress in the right direction is great.”

The truth is, pursuing official PHIUS passive house certification buys a third-party confirmation that your house is super efficient, which can be helpful in proving the value of upgrades. Passive house certification is a small price to pay for what could be a major boost to a home’s resale value.

Even better, having a third-party contractor assess a home’s insulation and more is a great way to confirm that the work done on the home is going to last you for as long as it is expected to. Poorly installed insulation can be quickly ruined by exposure to moisture or condensation, which can, unfortunately, come back to bite you.

What Is the State of the Passive House Market & What Does it Mean for Retrofit Contractors?

It’s no secret that it’s challenging to turn an existing home into a certified passive home. Existing homes, especially older properties, were built before the industry knew what we now know about creating an efficient, healthy home. Finding a way to make all of a house’s systems work in unison according to 2021 standards is a task unique to every single home.

This begs the question: Is it better for a retrofit contractor to work with a very small group of homeowners who are able to invest extensive time and resources into retrofitting an existing home to fully meet the passive house criteria? Or, is it better to work with a larger group of property owners who are invested in making their homes as passive as possible without huge expense? Ultimately, the choice is yours because it will depend on your business strategy, your region, and a myriad of other factors unique to you.

While working on some upgraded “pretty good” homes is better than working on zero Passive Houses, PHIUS is hard at work determining the best guidance and criteria for renovating existing homes. Stay tuned to Energy Circle’s blogs and webinars and the PHIUS website to learn more about future developments!

As green building continues to double every three years and the presence of zero net energy homes is growing fast, there’s never been a better time to position your business as a go-to local retrofitting resource. The experienced team at Energy Circle specializes in digital marketing services for contractors in industries including HVAC, insulation, solar, and more. Call today to learn more about why our client satisfaction speaks for itself.

Reach out to the EC pros today to take your digital marketing to a new level. Call 1 (207) 847-3644 or reach out online today.

The passive house movement is here to stay. 

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