Passive House – a design guide

What is a Passive House?

The Passive House Standard is a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, which reduces the building’s ecological footprint. Originating from Germany, this standard requires buildings to have excellent thermal performance, exceptional airtightness, and mechanical ventilation. A building meeting the Passive House Standard typically has energy savings of up to 90% compared to traditional buildings.

Adapting Passive House Standard to Victorian Houses in the UK

Victorian houses in the UK, characterized by their solid brick walls, high ceilings, and ornate detailing, can be challenging to retrofit to meet the Passive House standard due to their inherent design and construction methods. However, the adoption of this standard is crucial in promoting sustainability and reducing energy consumption. Here are some ways through which the Passive House standard can be applied to Victorian houses in the UK:

1. Insulation and Thermal Performance

Victorian houses typically have poor insulation and are prone to drafts. To conform to the Passive House standard, it is essential to improve insulation in walls, roofs, and floors. Internal or external wall insulation can help in achieving the required thermal performance. Using high-performance insulation materials like aerogel can also ensure minimal thickness with maximum insulation.


2. Air Tightness

Airtightness is pivotal in achieving the Passive House standard. Victorian houses can be made more airtight by sealing gaps in the floorboards, windows, and doors and by installing draught-proofing strips around doors and windows. Professional air tightness testing and subsequent sealing of identified leakage points are also vital.

3. Window Replacement

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Victorian houses often feature single-glazed sash windows, which are inefficient in retaining heat. Replacing these with high-performance, double or triple-glazed windows can significantly reduce heat loss and enhance energy efficiency. Where it is essential to maintain the original features, secondary glazing can be an alternative solution.

4. Ventilation

The Passive House standard requires Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) systems to ensure a constant supply of fresh, filtered air and to recover heat from the extracted air. In Victorian houses, implementing MVHR systems requires careful planning to integrate ducting without compromising the architectural integrity of the building.


5. Renewable Energy Integration

Integrating renewable energy sources, like solar panels and ground source heat pumps, can assist in meeting the energy requirements of the Passive House standard. It can help reduce reliance on fossil fuel-based energy sources, making Victorian homes more sustainable.

6. Energy-Efficient Appliances and Lighting

The use of energy-efficient appliances and LED lighting can help in reducing the overall energy consumption of Victorian houses, making it easier to meet Passive House requirements.



7. Continuous Monitoring

To ensure the long-term sustainability of the retrofit, continuous monitoring of energy consumption, internal temperatures, and humidity levels is crucial. It can help in identifying any issues promptly and ensuring that the house continues to meet the Passive House standards.


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Applying the Passive House standard to Victorian houses in the UK is a challenging yet rewarding endeavour, significantly contributing to energy conservation and environmental preservation. While the structural and aesthetic characteristics of Victorian houses require sensitive and innovative approaches to retrofitting, the adaptation of Passive House principles can ensure the longevity, sustainability, and comfort of these historic buildings. By combining modern energy-efficient technologies with meticulous preservation of architectural heritage, Victorian houses can be transformed into exemplars of sustainable living in the 21st century.



Further information

A great article can be found on the RIBA pages – click here.


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