Passive House vs LEED vs Net Zero

3 Min. Read
mid-size passive house in Chelsea

1005 Broadway PH project

In recent years, building professionals have begun implementing more sustainable building standards. There are many to choose from, with LEED, Passive House, and Net Zero being the three most noteworthy. All three standards strive to achieve the same goal. Namely, to decrease energy consumption and increase sustainability. However, they vary widely in terms of scope and execution. 

How Do LEED and Passive House differ?

LEED, the most popular and widely adopted green building standard to date, takes a broader approach to sustainable building than its counterparts, and its certification standards have the widest scope of the three. With LEED projects, the central focus lies in the context and constraints under which a building is constructed, and less on the construction process itself. For example, a building’s proximity to easily accessible transportation is among the many factors that affect a building’s LEED eligibility. Less focus on the construction process results in less stringent building performance standards.  

Passive House, on the other hand, takes a starkly different approach. Passive House standards are notoriously high in regard to how a building’s envelope is constructed and the degree of its performance in categories such as thermal efficiency, insulation, etc. Testing requirements are also more rigorous and involve third-party verification. While LEED standards require greater attention to detail in the planning and design stages, Passive House projects require a more holistic approach to be taken by placing equal emphasis on design, planning, and execution. 

Many factors that are critical to obtaining a LEED certification, such as sustainable resource procurement and usage, are not explicit criteria for Passive House certification. However, these factors tend to be a natural byproduct of striving to reach Passive House certification standards. In other words, LEED-certified buildings are designed to be sustainable but vary widely in terms of energy-efficiency and performance. Passive Houses must, by definition, be high performing. With respect to energy-efficiency and performance, they almost always have the greater impact!  

What about Net Zero?

Where does Net-Zero fit into all of this? Net-Zero, also known as Zero Carbon or Carbon Neutrality, is more of an ideology than a centralized or standardized certification system. The goal of Net-Zero construction is to create a building that generates an amount of energy equal to the amount that it uses. To achieve this, emphasis is placed on the use of renewable energy sources such as solar and geothermal. Passive Houses are not inherently Net-Zero, but their design can be, and often is, used to achieve Net-Zero status. This is due to the fact that Passive House design principles seek to eliminate heating and cooling demand when possible and reduce overall energy demand.  

Due to the holistic approach and high standards required for Passive House building, as well as the many environmental benefits that come as a result, Haycon has chosen to pursue Passive House certification on our future projects. We currently have one completed Passive House project and three more currently under construction. We are seeking to further the knowledge and adoption of Passive House building because we believe that it is building is the key to preserving our environment for the generations to come. We have partnered with YouthBuild Boston to teach youth with an interest in construction how to employ passive building techniques. We are very hopeful that their generation, and the ones that follow, will be able to help the building sector work toward the aspirational carbon neutrality and energy efficiency goals that are being set worldwide. For now, we are doing our part to try and reach those goals ourselves! 

Resources: USGBC, Living Future, PHIUS

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