Dear readers, this week I am going to tell you about houses in Northern Europe, the “Passive houses” .
First of all, what is a Passive house?
The term “passive house” refers to a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, reducing its ecological footprint. It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling*.
As you know, Scandinavian countries experience really cold temperature during the winter, and this adverse climate obliged them to become, since Vikings' era, the leaders in insulation.
It is incredible how they can keep their dwellings on an average of 20 degrees, while outside it is -25, but they do :)!
Their houses are perfectly insulated, and their roofs can bear the weight of meters of snow!
Let's see, from the beginning, how they can make it.
First of all the walls, windows, doors and many other components of a Scandinavian Home are manufactured using top quality Swedish and Finnish timber (produced through sustainable forestry of course) combined with the highest quality of workmanship.
Where components of a suitable quality exist locally, these will be sourced near the build site in order to avoid increasing the amount of primary energy embedded into the construction.
Homes in Scandinavia in general focus on energy-efficiency. Scandinavian Homes push this to today's limit of technology to deliver state-of-the-art dwellings using ultra-insulated building elements like thick walls and roofs, and triple-glazed argon-filled windows with coated glass, airtightness in combination with controlled ventilation and heat recovery removing the heat from used air before expelling it, and various types of active solar gain, e.g. for water heating.
Each individual house it fine-tuned to the climate for which it is built, protecting against wind and rain and drawing maximum benefit from the sun in terms of orientation on the plot where the house is erected, shading and window placement and sizing.
This construction technique allows for large open-plan designs because the whole house is always pleasantly warm, and load-bearing walls are not normally required inside the dwelling, splitting up the space. In fact, if you have never been inside a passive house you have no idea how comfortable a house can be!
Passive houses do not require a central heating system. Actually, they normally don't require a space heating system at all - even in Scandinavian climates. To be on the safe side we normally install electric floor heating in the highly insulated floor. This heating provision is not normally used - or even connected to the electricity supply - but it is nice to know it is there in case the climate changes for the worse over the lifetime of the building! I really find this aspect incredible: installing the heating “just to be sure”, but probably they won’t even need it, even if the weather there is so harsh!
Now, my dear readers, comes the question: why in our warm climate we freeze during our 15° average temperature winter, spending so much money to warm up our dwellings, while in Scandinavia they are so warm without spending any money in heating, despite their freezing winter?
I think this is really something on which we should start thinking about..
What we generally focus on is just the outside face of the house, while we really don’t consider the livability of it.
A fundamental rule in Passive house design is to keep the shape of buildings simple because complicated shapes inevitably bring about a larger outside wall area exposed to the weather and hence to heat losses. For that reason you will see that Scandinavian Homes display a clean, straightforward architecture using either external wood-cladding or render, neutral, white or colored, roofs with solar collectors and covered by tiles or slates, and an interior dominated by various types of wood, tinted, oiled or simply untreated. This does not mean that you can't use different materials and because the houses are fundamentally open plan you can in effect design the interior more or less as you wish, the options mainly limited by technical requirements: I find anyway the simple architecture really nice.
My personal opinion is that the house has to be “homey”, not a castle, in which you can’t relax the weekend after a stressful working week because the house itself stresses you to be maintained!
Don’t you think the same ?
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