Passivhaus or Passive House?

If you are looking for a passive house architect to design you a sustainable building, eco house or passive home, you may wonder what is the difference in meaning between architecture that is ‘Passivhaus’ and ‘Passive House’?

In fact there is no difference in meaning. The word ‘Passivhaus’ originates from the German Passivhaus Institut (PHI), founded in 1996 by Dr Wolfgang Feist as an independent research institution. When Justin Bere started writing about the Passivhaus Institut’s approach to eco house design in the architectural press in 2007, he used the German ‘Passivhaus’ spelling and others such as Gavin Hodgson at the Building Research Establishment did the same. This spelling became established as the norm in the UK, and when in the UK we formed the Passivhaus Trust to bring passive house interests together, we thought that using the German name would clearly distinguish an architect who was using the Passivhaus Institute’s scientific standard to produce rigorously certified sustainable architecture and building from an architect using vaguely passive design techniques.

All would have been fine, except that the Passivhaus Institute, finding huge international interest in the standard, formed the ‘International Passive House Association’ using the English translation!  Ireland, America and other English speaking communities have adopted the PHI’s translation ‘Passive House’ - and to avoid confusion, perhaps we in the UK should now step into line and do the same?

Justin Bere


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Hi Justin, Turns out the Canadians and Americans coined the term in the mid 70s. William Shurcliff, an American physicist and solar heating pioneer, refers to superinsulated houses (the equivalent to what we know today as Passivhaus) and passive solar houses as "Passive Houses" and "Passive Housing" as a generic term already in the late 70s.
Hi Katrin, thanks for your interesting point. I know that Wolfgang is always the first to acknowledge the debt of gratitude that we all owe these early pioneers. He told me that co-heating tests originated in America around the same time and then were largely forgotten in the 80's & 90's. So much time was wasted, leaving behind a climate our grandchildren could have had. Let's hope shale gas doesn't put things back again. An important task of convincing America rests on your shoulders!