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A comprehensive assessment of the life cycle energy demand of passive houses

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Certifications such as the Passive House aim to reduce the final space heating energy demand of residential buildings. The latter are responsible for a significant share of final energy consumption in Europe of which nearly 70% is associated with space conditioning, notably heating. The improvement of the energy efficiency of residential buildings, in terms of space heating, can therefore reduce their total energy demand.

However, most certifications totally overlook other energy requirements associated with residential buildings. Studies on passive houses do not take into consideration the embodied energy required to manufacture the building materials, especially the large amount of insulation required to achieve high operational efficiencies. At an urban scale, most passive houses are single family detached houses located in low density suburbs with a high car usage, resulting in considerable transport related energy demand.

This paper analyses the total life cycle energy demand of a typical Belgian passive house, comprising embodied, operational and transport energy. It relies on a comprehensive technique developed by Stephan et al. [1] and conducts a parametric analysis as well as a comparison to alternative building types.

Results show that current building energy efficiency certifications might not ensure a lower energy demand and can, paradoxically result in an increased energy consumption because of their limited scope. More comprehensive system boundaries should be used to make sure that net energy savings do occur. The embodied energy of passive houses can represent up to 77% of the total embodied and operational energy over 100 years. Also passive houses can have nearly the same energy consumption as a standard new house with the same geometry, location and number of occupants. A retrofitted apartment in the city has an energy consumption 15.2% lower than the best passive house scenario.