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RESILIENCE -- Buildings as Refuge

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

You can find numerous articles defining the idea of resilience in the built environment and we are asked about resilience every week. The path to resilient buildings can look different for every building owner and developer based on their values, but we believe, at a foundational level, a resilient building is one that protects the people in it from what is outside.

Recently the International Passive House Association published a technical study that used simulation to compare the building resilience of an old building versus German building code requirements versus a Passive House Institute certified building. The results contribute empirical evidence to the question How Much Should a Building Protect Occupants?

Source: International Passive House Association

Passive House certified buildings have a few things in common but the one most important attribute, for a discussion on resilience, is they possess high performance envelopes by design. The change of temperature in a building depends on the level of thermal insulation: the better insulated, the slower it will cool down or heat up in the event of shocks like heating system failure, utility interruptions, weather events, bitterly cold temperatures, or searing heat.

As you can see from the chart, in a typical existing buildings, loss of heating will cause unpleasantly cold temperatures within hours and after a few days water pipes could freeze. German building codes show that in one to two days, the indoor temperature will drop below 59 degrees Fahrenheit (F). However, a Passive House certified building will maintain habitable temperatures above 64 degrees F, for a week or more.

The study further showed that between the months of Jan through April, the temperatures in the Passive House certified building never dropped below 59 degrees F, while the code and existing buildings spent most of those months between 37 degrees and 50 degrees F.

Remember the theory behind the Passive House building standards: you spend a little more on insulation and higher performing windows to then have the envelope performance that supports the reduction of the size and complexity of the mechanical systems. It makes sense, right?


For anyone even mildly convinced that building science matters, the Passive House standard is a gift that keeps on giving throughout the life of the buildings: lowest energy consumption possible, reduced carbon emissions, healthy indoor air quality, improved acoustics, and RESILIENCE.

Q: Who benefits the most?

A: The people who are most vulnerable.


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