Living in a Passive House

The founder of The Reveal, Jennifer Karkar Ritchie, tells us what it is like to live in a passive house in this guest post.

I live in a certified Passive House home designed by NK Architects and built by Cascade Built.  My home uses up to 90% less energy for heating and cooling than traditionally built homes.  I sometimes joke that if I blow my wavy hair straight, it will warm the house up. It’s partially true—the size of our heater is relatively the same size as a 1500-watt hairdryer.

While just beginning to gain momentum in the US, this standard of building is very common in Europe and especially in Brussels, where they’ve mandated it into their building code.

As we face a global climate crisis, I think it’s more important than ever to share my experience and the opportunity Passive House buildings offer as a new renewable energy solution – not using energy is essentially the same as creating it with wind or solar.

My house is relatively warm. Always.  If the sun is out, we don’t even need to turn on the heater (which is incredibly small and not furnace like)—even if it’s 50-degrees outside.  Our south facing windows will trap the sun’s warmth into the house.  If it’s not sunny, our tiny heater can heat the whole house because our walls have 16-inches of insulation in them and our floor and roof have almost 20-inches of insulation. Take a look at your windowsills—they’re about 2-3 inches thick.  Mine are about 12-inches thick because of the insulation. Bonus: they make a great space for pictures and art.

People initially asked me if it was stifling.  The concept of a home being airtight—without space around windows and doors for air leaks and drier and cooking vents – translated into being “sealed” into the house.  In fact, the opposite is true.   We get to breathe continuous, filtered fresh air courtesy of our high performance Zehnder HRV (heat recovery ventilator).  My husband’s allergies have even diminished, presumably because the filter removes air-toxins and allergens.

My kids run around in t-shirts and shorts most of the time because they are generally warm.  Their teachers think I’m crazy when they tell them they live in California indoors.


If the house is cooler than I want it, meaning 67 or 68 degrees, I can do a load of laundry and dry it in our condensing dryer to add heat because it vents the warm air to the inside, rather than the outside of the house. Same goes for baking in the oven, which has an induction cooktop because in a Passive House it’s about using other sources for heat, and having no holes in the house (like from a traditional dryer or stove vent).

We live in a constant state of comfort—warm and sheltered from the noise of the outside (triple pane windows and doors + all that insulation = quiet).  I don’t miss one second of sitting in front of a drafty window, feeling dry from the constant blowing of forced air heat, or walking in from the outside to bundle up in my indoor jacket and slippers.


Ha! You might be thinking. But what about when summer comes.  Well, we lower our exterior shades and give the sun’s energy a rest.  And our house remains a cool (in this case) 70-degrees.

Have questions about what it’s like to live in a Passive House? Ask away!  Visiting Seattle? Reach out to her at jennifer (at) for a tour.

 *Pro photos courtesy of Aaron Leitz Photography

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