Passive House Design: The Importance of High-Performance Windows

| 11/18/2010 12:15:36 PM

Tags: passive house design, mark miller, passive house, passive house standard, energy efficiency, energy efficient windows, windows, high performance windows, architecture, design,

Mark A. Miller is a practicing architect/builder/developer living in Chicago who designs projects around the country. His studio, Mark A. Miller Architects + Builders, designs and builds high-performing, energy-efficient homes that speak to the soul. Mark recently co-founded the Passive House Alliance Chicago and is lecturing about the Passive House standard throughout the Midwest. You can learn more about his unique approach to designing thoughtful homes at his websites: Zen + Architecture and Passive House Midwest . 

I wanted to highlight some of the techniques that factor into achieving the Passive House standard. The Passive House standard is a performance benchmark for buildings. If met, the structure will achieve significant energy efficiency and fall in line with the Architecture 2030 challenge to have all buildings move to a net zero status (meaning the building does not require power outside its site to operate), thus reducing the large contribution buildings make to CO2 output and global warming.  The initiative is the brainchild of Edward Mazria, an architect who wrote one of the bibles on passive solar design called The Passive Solar Energy Book. If you don’t have this on your shelf, I highly recommend it. The illustrations are just wonderful and the information is as relevant as ever.

Matson living room windows 
South-facing windows help passive solar homes maximize solar heat gain during the day. Photo By Scott Shigley. 

Now I mentioned this earlier, to keep folks from getting confused on terms here. Passive solar design attempts to maximize free solar heat gain through a large amount of south facing glazing.  It uses large thermal mass, such as a concrete slab or trombe wall, to store this heat during the day so that it is slowly released into the home over the night. These homes experience temperature swings throughout the day. In comparison, a home built to the Passive House standard attempts to have very stable temperatures 24 hours a day. Passive Houses are less focused on maximum solar gain, thus south facing windows are very controlled and calculated into the yearly performance of the structure. Thermal mass is an option, but Passive Houses do not rely solely on this solar gain for the majority of their comfort.

So, since we are talking about Edward Mazria and the benefits of passive solar design, we might as well start our Passive House techniques with high-performance windows. These are an important component of the system, as windows notoriously are the weak link for any structure regarding its energy-efficiency. Why is this? 

We strive to increase the insulative values in our building envelope. High performing walls have previously been in the R-20 to R-30 range (a measure of the capacity of a material, such as insulation, to impede heat flow, with increasing values indicating a greater capacity). To give you a reference base, a typical 2x4 stud wall insulated with fiberglass batts is around R-13. With the Passive House standard, walls are now thickening to achieve ratings more in the R-40 to R-60 range.   

7/5/2014 8:48:25 AM

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