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The Link Between Passive House and Embodied Carbon

By Katya Stassen

Katya Stassen, Architectural Designer

I recently read the article "Taking a Holistic Approach to Embodied Carbon," and it raised some valid concerns about the relationship between Passive House construction and embodied carbon. Fred Bernstein, the author, points out that with all the additional insulation needed in a Passive House, you can end up with higher embodied carbon than you would have in a standard structure of the same size.


While I completely agree that we need to consider the embodied carbon of our projects (and consider how we can reduce it), I still believe in the Passive House standard. The issue here is how you choose to go about meeting the certification standards. Building to Passive House standards without considering embodied carbon might well lead to more carbon overall, but if you can make more carbon-conscious choices, you should be able to reduce your embodied carbon while designing to Passive House standards.


The article makes an important point about the risks of focusing solely on operational energy and overlooking the environmental impact of materials. With our mechanical systems getting more efficient and our grid getting cleaner, the focus is shifting to the building’s envelope. We need to look for ways to use less material to begin with and choose lower carbon materials wherever we can. I believe we need to blend Passive House strategies with careful carbon analysis and thoughtful choices to reduce our carbon footprint. That's where we’re going to make a difference—it's not just about energy-efficient homes anymore; it's about creating spaces that work in harmony with the environment.


Furthermore, if we really want to reduce our carbon footprint, we need to adjust our zoning laws to allow for more density. While I understand the appeal of single family homes, they come with a bigger carbon price tag. Mid-rise construction makes significantly more efficient use of resources, and creates the density needed to support shops and services that would allow people to go without cars. It's a smart strategy with a two-fold impact. It's about bringing people closer together in structures that make better use of our resources.


To sum it up, the article has us thinking about embodied carbon in Passive House construction, and that's a good thing! It's a reminder to be mindful about our material choices. By blending passive house strategies with carbon-conscious material choices and forward-thinking urban planning, we're charting a course towards an architectural landscape that's comfortable for occupants and respectful of the planet. Instead of shying away from Passive House, let's use it as a catalyst for making informed decisions that benefit our planet and the people on it.


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