What’s the Difference between Passive House and Net-Zero Construction?

Two miniature white turbines sit on top of architecture plans for Passive House and net-zero construction next to a cardboard tube, a pair of glasses, and two pencils.

Before Answering the Main Question, We Need to Define the Two Terms

A magnifying glass rests against a pile of books laying open-faced that have two closed books leaning sideways onto them.

So, What Is Passive House Construction?

  • Space heating — It shouldn’t exceed 15 m²yr/(kWh) annually or 10 W at peak demand for each square meter of usable living space.
  • Space cooling — The heat and cooling demand should be equal, but room can be made for dehumidification depending on the climate.
  • Primary energy — Appliances being used should not exceed the annual consumption of 120 kWh for each square meter of usable living space.
  • Airtightness — There should be at most 0.6 air changes an hour at 50 Pascals pressure, which can be verified with an on-site pressure test.
  • Thermal comfort — This form of comfort should exist year-round for all living areas.
  • Heat itself enough just by using the body heat of residents or heat from the sun that enters the building
  • Ensure that heat stays inside or out with proper insulation and the appropriate type of window
  • Get fresh air without draughts through an efficient ventilation system and heat recovery unit

And What about Net-Zero Construction?

  • Net-zero site energy — One of the more common ways to address a net-zero structure is through managing its energy consumption and generation on-site. For those who do take this approach, a net-zero structure is one that generates as much energy as it consumes. That ensures the structure will reach net-zero energy use annually.
  • Net-zero source energy — Similar to the first method of net-zero construction, a structure with net-zero source energy is one that generates as much energy as it consumes. But in this case, the energy use isn’t just aimed at the structure. It’s also aimed at the structure’s source of energy as well. So the focus for it is to reduce the energy lost or wasted during energy generation, transmission, and distribution.
  • Net-zero energy costs — Unlike the other two methods, this one focuses on the cost of energy. So net-zero construction under this ideal would maintain an energy utility bill of $0 annually. Builders might help this along by selling renewable energy credits that come from a renewable energy source from the structure.
  • Net-zero energy emissions — Another way to look at net-zero structures is by the emissions that come from their energy sources. Many produce CO₂, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, and more. A net-zero structure with net-zero energy emissions then is one that focuses on managing that. This can mean using an emissions-free energy source. Or it can mean offsetting emissions by exporting emissions-free energy.

At Their Core, They Both Focus Around Energy Efficiency

The outline of a house sits upright on a reflective surface with energy lines connecting it to turbines, solar panels, a glowing light bulb, and some gray squares.

But They Can Go about It in Different Ways

A 3D rendering of a house model is next to a variety of different sustainable architecture plans, an energy rating chart, a pair of glasses, a calculator, a cup of coffee, and a pad of sticky notes.

That Doesn’t Mean They Can’t Work Together

Three multi-ethnic construction workers are smiling at each other in hard hats and safety goggles while holding the plans for construction.

No Matter How You Proceed, You’ll Still Have a More Sustainable Project

A building with multiple tiers that stick out farther the lower they are on the building is covered in greenery.



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