Passive House: Designing and building buildings so well for a specific site and climate we can eliminate eighty to ninety percent of the energy demands of space heating, cooling, and humidity control. This is fully achievable and affordable today, using readily available technologies and materials. And trust me, the architecture will be stunning, but not odd; I can create nearly any character working in this realm.
These buildings are referred to as 'Passive House' not because they are houses (any building can be built this way, including commercial buildings) but because they minimize our reliance on 'active' mechanical equipment to keep us comfortable. It makes sense, if we think through it. Currently, mainstream practice is to carefully design selected aspects of a new or renovated building, then delegate the design of the heating and cooling systems... to an industry with a culture of maintaining thermal comfort within the (leaky, minimally insulated) building envelope we accept as a norm by brute force. (No mechanical designer or contractor wants a complaint about an undersized system - not to mention the fact that they are also incentivized to sell more of their product than less.) We wind up spending more on both the initial and operational costs related to that one commitment than on any other single component of our buildings. The proportion of funding devoted to the basic structure of buildings has dropped from a historical average of around 80% to less than 20% today. The cost of mechanical systems has steadily risen, now often consuming over a third of the cost of construction.
So, what if we invested that money differently? We gain a windfall of financial horsepower available to a create, own, and operate a dramatically better and smarter building. When we drop our energy needs so radically, it quickly becomes far more feasible to cover the difference by means of renewable sources - and then some.
Suddenly, we are in a position to feed power back to the utility company, running our power meter backwards... or use it to charge our cars. We can live and work in a more comfortable (draft free) and healthy (superb indoor air quality) environment. We can take comfort in the knowledge that we are building a legacy for the future. We can feel good about helping to address the issue that over forty percent of our national energy use is presently consumed by our buildings. We can save buckets full of money, month after month.