Whether you’ve subscribed wholeheartedly to the green living movement or you’re just starting to discover some of the many ways that you can cut your carbon footprint on the home front, you may be familiar with LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, an organization that certifies buildings that pass their standards for environmentally-friendly construction and design. What you may not be aware of is the fact that there are actually several groups across the globe that work with similar goals, rewarding green building projects with their seal of approval, or setting standards and guidelines that builders can follow in order to gain such approval (and the bragging rights that go with it). And one such organization that is making strides on the green building front is Passivhaus out of Germany. In fact, there have been a handful of “Passive” projects in the U.S., and there are several reasons why homeowners might be drawn to the Passive style. But in order to decide which set of green standards is best for your home, you’ll first need to understand the differences.
LEED buildings in the U.S. are not a scarcity. And they’re not that hard to pick out, what with solar panels, wind turbines, and rooftop gardens making them highly visible. So why would you want to try to attain LEED certification when building or buying a home? There are a couple of good reasons. LEED standards focus on several factors, including water and energy efficiency, sustainable building practices and materials, and the overall quality of the interior environment. When you walk into a LEED certified home it’s easy to see what the builders have done to make the space eco-friendly, from the inclusion of a solar array on the roof to concrete counters and a recycled glass backsplash in the kitchen, just for example. And while most homeowners can get behind the idea of sustainable living, what they’ll really love is the savings on utility bills that results from such practices.
Passive homes, on the other hand, take a somewhat different approach that is, well, passive. Certainly solar power could be considered a passive way to reduce energy consumption, and Passive homes often feature solar panels. But the idea behind the standards of Passivhaus is energy efficiency, with a focus on insulation, an air-tight interior, and limited reliance on systems to provide heating and cooling, as opposed to say, conservation efforts. When you enter a Passive home, chances are you will not see most of the effort that goes into making it energy efficient. But you don’t necessarily have to understand all the benefits of geothermal heat pumps, for example, to know that they work. And you won’t have to live in a Passive house for long to realize the major savings that are part and parcel of receiving this certification.
Of course, the rating system is a little different, also. Whereas LEED works on a point system whereby each green element merits a certain number of points, with enough points earning you various levels of certification, the Passive system is basically pass/fail. Builders either meet the standards or they don’t, with very little wiggle room. But it’s hard to say whether one is better than the other. While Passive places heavy emphasis on energy efficiency, and strives to reduce overall consumption by two-thirds or more, LEED certification requires eco-friendly efforts to be met on several fronts. The thing is, you can have your cake and eat it, too. These certifications are not mutually exclusive and you can achieve both with some effort.