International Passivhaus Conference 2015, Leipzig - Green Building Store Green Building Store

International Passivhaus Conference 2015

Leipzig: Municipal support for Passivhaus

This year the International Passivhaus Conference was held in the former DDR city of Leipzig.  Why Leipzig?  Well Leipzig is one of a number of German municipal authorities committed to Passivhaus, for all municipal  buildings.  It is certainly inspiring to have so many authorities in Germany and elsewhere not only accepting Passivhaus but actively promoting the standard.  Having said that, in our short history of Passivhaus in the UK, we already have one city authority only building to the Passivhaus standard, and more likely to follow Exeter’s example shortly.

Pablo Neruda Passivhaus Primary school, Leipzig

Pablo Neruda Passivhaus Primary school, Leipzig

My first international conference was in 2007 in Bregenz.  As someone new to Passivhaus at the time, this was a truly inspiring experience in many ways.  Not the least was the extraordinary venue in the opera house actually standing in Lake Constance, and ringed by mountains.  Even more inspiring of course, for someone from the UK, where Passivhaus was virtually unknown, was seeing how weIl developed it already was with many projects and a mature range of advanced products to support it.  This year at what was my 7th conference I hoped that those new to it were as inspired as I was all those years ago.   At my 7th conference, of course, and no longer so wide eyed, my focus was a little different.  The conference is a rich, and pretty exhausting, mix of social connections, building details and policy.  So, what really stands out for me from my three days in Leipzig?

Multi-generational Passivhaus home with a north wall, Leipzig

Multi-generational Passivhaus home with a north wall, Leipzig















Passivhaus community

Well, first, the people.  After nearly 10 years involved with Passivhaus, and 5 years chairing the Passivhaus Trust, I know a lot of people involved with Passivhaus.  So I connected with friends old and new, which is always a great pleasure of course.  But the striking thing is the commitment and passion which is common to very many people involved in Passivhaus.  I think this is simply because Passivhaus is such a truly positive story.  It is about doing things better – building better, getting something better – more comfortable buildings with less energy use, and making the future better – offering solutions to our energy and climate crisis.

Retrofit of Bauhaus Westbad Western Swimming Baths, Leipzig

Conversion of Bauhaus Westbad Western Swimming Baths, Leipzig















Passivhaus taking off in China

The second thing that stands out is also about people – the Chinese.  This year there were 65 delegates from China, simultaneous translation into Chinese, and a whole Working Group dedicated to developments in China.  There are Passivhaus buildings, and Passivhaus organisations, in many countries round the world.  China is only just starting.  But as the largest country on earth, and with probably the largest construction programme on earth, this still seems very significant.  How will it develop?  Will we see massive adoption of Passivhaus there?  I hope so.  China has a huge potential to move us to achieving our energy and climate change goals, or to completely defeat those goals.  Adoption of Passivhaus at national scale would make a huge difference!

Near Zero Energy Buildings

Coming nearer home, back to Europe in fact, it is the approach of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the European target of near zero energy buildings (NZEB) by 2020, which could begin to revolutionise the impact of European buildings.  Perhaps unfortunately, each country is being left to propose how it will meet this directive, and for most countries it is as yet unclear how they will respond.  In fact, according to one workshop, only Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands have as yet developed an official definition, and shamefully the UK does not even have a draft policy.  However it is an obvious place where Passivhaus could really come into its own, so naturally there was a lot of talk about this.  The Passivhaus Institut has now introduced its new Passivhaus Classes, which all retain the same focus on ‘fabric first’ but also can now include renewables in the certification.  Personally I have serious reservations about mixing up renewables with energy efficiency in a building standard, but I can see the political need for Passivhaus to offer options which meet NZEB.  There is also a petition which is to be presented to the president of the European Commission in June, calling for Passivhaus to be recognised as achieving NZEB across Europe, irrespective of the responses from particular countries.  I understand that the Commission may be much more open to this approach now, and with the shining example of Brussels, where every building must be Passivhaus (since January this year), we may see Passivhaus really take off in Europe.

Pablo Neruda Passivhaus Primary School, Leipzig

Pablo Neruda Passivhaus Primary School, Leipzig















Saskatchewan low energy house

As in previous years, right at the end of the conference, Wolfgang Feist presented the Pioneers award.  This brought to mind the quote, usually attributed to Isaac Newton: “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.  The early work on low energy buildings around the world, particularly in the 1970s and early 80s formed the bedrock for the development of the Passivhaus standard.   So this year’s award to Harold Orr, one of the developers of the 1977 Saskatchewan low energy house, seemed particularly fitting.   In accepting the award, Harold outlined the ground breaking levels of insulation and airtightness which have ensured that the house is still performing 40 years on.  The solar heating system was long ago abandoned, but the fabric of the building is still performing as designed, and leading to very low energy consumption.  There couldn’t have been a better way of rounding off this international Passivhaus conference.      Next year will be the 20th international conference, and the 25th anniversary of the building of the very first Passivhaus in Kranichstein.  In 25 years, Passivhaus has come a long way.  From what I learnt at this year’s conference, in the next few years, Passivhaus could start to reshape how we construct worldwide.  I cannot imagine a more positive message to take away from a few days in Leipzig.

Petition – Equal treatment of Passive House + NZEB for a prompt uniform European-wide implementation of the EU Buildings Directive

Chris Herring, Director, Green Building Store

21st April 2015

9 responses to “International Passivhaus Conference 2015”

  1. Nick Grant says:

    Nice summary Chris

    As you say it is the people that stand out. Most are there under their own steam, not on an expenses paid jolly. So they have to care.

    I think it is important to clarify that the Passivhaus Austria petition to have Passivhaus buildings accepted as NZEB refers to Passivhaus Classic as I understand. That is certainly why I signed it!

    The new PHI standards are the most intelligent approach yet to making sense of how much building related renewables can offset the building’s consumption. However, as many of us have repeatedly argued, they fail to challenge the assumption that building-tied renewables (whether physically or contractually) are the right focus for policy.

    Like you I am not against people putting PV on their roof but have serious reservations about this being tied to the building performance in any way. I do however support the need to develop a method to determine consumption and renewables generation interactions so that we can make more sensible design decisions.

    Lets keep pushing for the science to steer the politics and not the other way round.

  2. Chris Herring says:

    Thanks Nick.

    I was assured that the petition was referring to Passivhaus Classic. However on reading it through I think it is pretty ambiguous. I agree that having Passivhaus Classic meet NZEB would be the most desirable. But I guess if the Commission do decide to include renewables so long as the fabric comes first and meets Passivhaus Classic, this would still be a great leap forward.

    I have a hard copy of the petition, so will scan and get it attached to this blog.

  3. Nick Grant says:

    Issue is NZEB being a requirement. People say they can’t build Passivhaus because it requires care and time to get the fabric right. Many of us working to demonstrate that it can be built for the same price as normal good quality (i.e. actually meeting current building code) build but we can’t then find money for renewables as well from same budget.

    What will give? Ventilation commissioning? Quality?

    Uptake of PH in UK has in a large part been driven by it being seen as a better alternative to bolt ons.

    Anyone who says it isn’t a case of either/or is working for clients with surplus money.

    Sustainable building must be cost effective and reliable by definition.

  4. Simon McGuinness says:


    I share your concern about renewables. When I first saw the new PH categories I thought they looked a lot like DEAP, the Irish national metric and a long way short of PHPP (but a lot better than SAP).

    But lets not lose sight of the important aspect of adoption of PHPP as a “deemed to satisfy” criterion for compliance with the EPBD: its universality. It washes away the detritus of 28 national standards, each of which has been contaminated by local political meddling to greater or lesser extents. PHPP is based on science, not politics even though I would recognise that both will have to be leveraged to achieve the IPCC’s 2degC ceiling..

    The important thing is to avoid any “nearly” PassiveHouse appendage, as they did for Net Zero Energy Building, which has rendered it a joke. Ireland is proposing 125kWh/m2a as the nZEB threshold excluding all plug loads. That’s stroke politics at its worst- costs nothing and achieves nothing. I don’t doubt that there will be 28 similar strokes pulled.

    PHPP, if – and only if – certified by the PHI, is a standard worth implementing.

    I happen to think that any of the 4 certifiable options are worth building to, and think EnerPHit, in particular, will transform our societies, given that legacy buildings represent 90% of the problem.

    Our main problem will be avoiding the politically expedient, and utterly destructive, “nearly” appendage. I expect that we have got to be prepared to go right to the wire to avoid that happening: it is just so attractive to a politician.

    Nearly never achieved anything.

    Great report, thanks.

  5. What is the address the signatures of the petition should be sent to?
    Such collective action needs more publicity.

    • admin says:

      Agreed! Trying to find an address/ online version of petition and will post it here when known. If anyone has any more information on this – please post here.

  6. Chris Herring says:

    I am waiting to receive an electronic version of the petition (this was just a paper copy circulating at the conference which I scanned). This will go to the Passivhaus Trust for circulation to our membership and I guess more widely. It will get publicity, but the first we had heard of it was last Saturday! I will ensure that the electronic version and address for the petition goes up here when I receive these.

    I very much agree about the universality of this, and also the danger of the political ‘nearly’, as you say Simon. I presume that the UK’s proposal for NZEB will be some variant of the Zero Carbon target (depending on how our politics shake out in May). The Trust is already intending to do work to show that Passivhaus is cheaper than Carbon Compliance, and it may well be that we can show that PH is cheaper than the national approach to NZEB when we know what it is. If PH (in some form) is already universally deemed to satisfy, this would make it an extremely attractive proposition. The challenge will be then to ensure it really is PH, ie the quality assurance is rigorous – an enormous challenge in itself.

  7. Hagop Matossian says:

    Nice piece. When there is a version of the petition that can be signed digitally, I will help promote it.

  8. Chris Herring says:

    Just an update on the petition. This has been slightly amended by the originators in Austria. I am waiting for confirmation of the finalised version, which I will then post up here. The Passivhaus Trust and others will be promoting it.

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