History of the Passive House

For more than two decades, the passive house has represented a building standard that is comfortable, cost-saving, enduring and environmentally compatible. In 2011 the passive house could look back on a success story of twenty years.

Supervised scientifically by Dr. Wolfgang Feist, four terraced housing units were built by private property developers and owners in Darmstadt - Kranichstein, based on plans by Prof. Bott/Ridder/Westermeyer in 1990/1991. This was the first permanently occupied multi-family home project having a documented heating energy consumption of less than 12 kWh/m²a ever planned, built and supervised in terms of measurement and controlling the building.
01 -Passivhaus Darmstadt Kranichstein - PHI

In 1996 the Passivhaus Institut (PHI) was set up as an independent research institution headed by Dr. Wolfgang Feist. Its purpose is to deal with research and development in the field of highly efficient energy use in buildings. The PHI has made a major contribution to evolving the passive house concept in Germany and worldwide. In the meantime, the interdisciplinary team comprises more than 40 members and is managed by Dr. Witta Ebel. At the University of Innsbruck, a branch office called "Passivhaus Institut Austria" under the professorship of Univ. Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Feist was established at Universität Innsbruck, Institut für Konstruktion und Materialwissenschaften, Arbeitsbereich Energieeffizientes Bauen. (Institute for Construction and Material Sciences, Energy-efficient Building).

Starting in 1996, the Passivhaus Institut organises the annual International Passive House Conference, which has become a worldwide central platform for participants from science, architecture, engineering and product development in the field of highly energy-efficient construction and refurbishment.

Since 2004 the International Days of the Passive House have taken place each year in November to allow the interested public from all over the world to get an impression of the qualities offered by a passive house.

On the occasion of the 15th  anniversary of the passive house Darmstadt - Kranichstein, Dr. Wolfgang Feist, Passivhaus Institut in September 2006 described the development "From the low-energy house to the passive house" in the publication "Der Faktor 10 ist Realität".

If you want to learn about the development leading towards the passive house standard please go to passipedia.passiv.de.

•    Traditional buildings in Southern China
•    Turf houses in Iceland
•    "Fram", Fritjof Nansen's polar ship, was a passive house (1883)
•    The DTH zero-energy house on the campus in Copenhagen
•    The Philips experimental house
•    Example of a "superinsulated home" in the United States
•    The Rocky Mountains Institute by Amory & Hunter Lovins at an altitude of 2164 m
•    Super-low-energy houses by Hans Eek
•    The energy self-sufficient house in Freiburg
•    The passive house in Darmstadt Kranichstein


The passive house in Austria - a historical outline:

An analysis by Günter Lang

In 1993 architect Helmut Krapmeier of the Energieinstitut Vorarlberg first learned about the impressive concept of the passive house in a lecture held by Dr. Wolfgang Feist in Darmstadt and presented this revolutionary building standard to stunned architects from Austria at the first Summer Academy 1994 in Vorarlberg. 

The first residential buildings meeting the passive house standard in Austria:

In 1996 Austria's first single-family home meeting the passive house standard was completed. The single-family home was owned by Martin Caldonazzi in Amerlügen/Vorarlberg and planned and built by his brother, builder Richard Caldonazzi at an altitude of more than 900 meters above sea level.

 2 - 1.PH in A - EFH Caldonazzi

Shortly afterwards, Austria's first terraced home complex was built in 1997 in Batschuns/Vorarlberg by Atelier Unterrainer, followed, in the same year, by the first passive house multi-family home accommodating 13 apartments, the residential compound of Ölzbündt in Dornbirn/Vorarlberg by ArchitekturBüro DI Hermann Kaufmann. Both projects won the "House of Tomorrow" award.

 3 - RH Batschuns - Arch. Unterrainer

Ten years later – in 2007 - as many as 4000 residential units met the passive house standard which became the minimum standard for social housing in Vorarlberg.  In October 2009 property developer Neue Heimat Tirol formally opened 354 apartments in Innsbruck at the Lodenareal area, the then largest passive house residential complex. In Vienna, construction works for building area "Eurogate", the largest passive house complex in Austria holding 1800 apartments for better living comfort and cosiness, started at the end of 2009.

By the end of 2011 as many as roughly 21,000 apartments meeting the passive house standard, most of them in multi-family homes, were inhabitated by their residents.

 4 - MFH Ölzbündt - Arch. Kaufmann

Eurogate Pan

Austria's first retrofit project was implemented in 2004, as the Schwarz's single-family home in Pettenbach was renovated by LANG consulting. In the process, heating energy consumption was reduced by more than 95% from 280 to 12.9 kWh/m²a. As Dr. Wolfgang Feist said  "Let's go the whole hog" -  this pilot project marked the beginning of a rapid development of the passive house standard also in the field of refurbishment of existing buildings in Austria.

1 - PH Pettenbach Fertig Südost Dsc02108 

Development of non-residential buildings in the passive house standard:

The rapid pace of development is illustrated by kindergartens. In Ziersdorf, Austria's first passive-house kindergarten was built by ah3 architekten zt gmbh within the "House of Tomorrow" initiative in 2002.

While there were no more than five kindergartens in Austria in 2006, the city of Baden alone has had five kindergartens planned as passive houses since the summer of 2009, permanently delivering fresh air for the children, all of them planned by Jordan [architektur&energie].

 7 - KGB2 Baden Arch. Jordan

The passive house has set an example also in school construction. The first school according to passive house standard was the secondary school in Klaus-Weiler-Fraxern in Vorarlberg, planned by Dietrich / Untertrifaller Architekten between 2002 and 2003. While only four schools of that standard existed in Austria in 2006, as many as 23 had been built to meet the passive house standard as at April 25, 2010, as documented in the database, 13 of them as retrofit of existing buildings.

 8 - 1.Schule Klaus Weiler - Arch. Dietrich Untertrifaller

The first building meeting the passive house standard to be used as an office was planned by Architekturbüro DI Hermann Kaufmann in Schwarzach in 1998.

Among service buildings it is the research project Christophorushaus in Stadl Paura/Upper Austria planned by Dipl. Ing. Albert P. Böhm + Mag. Helmut Frohnwieser that is particularly noteworthy. Having operated to the greatest satisfaction of office employees since 2003, it needs no more than 26 Eurocents per m² and year for heating and cooling purposes – compared to 20 to 30 Euros per m² and year spent for conventional office buildings.

As at April 25, 2010 the database documented a total of 57 office and commercial buildings as well as 25 other buildings meeting the passive house standard.

 9 - ChristophorusHaus Arch. Böhm

Between 2005 and 2006 Austria's first retrofit project to bring a public building to passive house standard was implemented successfully. Within the "House of Tomorrow" initiative, the refurbished polytechnic school and secondary school II in Schwanenstadt/Upper Austria as planned by Plöderl.Architektur.Urbanismus. PAUAT Architekten need only 47 cubic meters of pellets for heating instead of 55,000 cubic metres of natural gas every year – with a floor space of 6240 m², this is less than what  a single family home needs. Even without public subsidies, the communities would have to spend 20% less, despite higher building costs, compared to conventional refurbishment over a payback period of 20 years.

So it is little wonder that already four years later 13 passive-house school refurbishment projects were documented in the database, and a large number of further projects are now being implemented.

thumb 3 - Poly Schulsanierung Schwanenstadt - Maximilian Lang 

In 2006 the community of Ludesch in Vorarlberg set a milestone in sustainability by building the first community centre according to the passive house standard, again planned by Architekturbüro DI Hermann Kaufmann.

In 2010 around one dozen of community centres were being built throughout Austria. They help to reduce their future spending significantly and to serve as a role model in their communities.

And in Lower Austria, the regional parliament has decided that, from 2008 on, all government buildings have to be planned according to the passive house standard only. As energy capital of Europe, the city of Wels has committed itself to build all its community-owned buildings as passive houses and to refurbish existing buildings by using at least passive house components. In 2011 more than a dozen of Vorarlberg's communities entrenched the passive house standard in their declarations.

 11 - Gemeindezentrum Ludesch - Arch. Kaufmann

12 - ZeitschieneMeilensteine

 13 - 1000ste PH in A - WHA Klagenfurt
 14 - 5.000ste Passivhaus in Österreich
16-Lodenareal 3Mio m2 PH - Photo Vandory Martin 001


In an interview on You Tube on Jan. 29th, 2010, Ing. Günter Lang speaks on the development of the volume of new passive houses compared to conventional buildings.