Can I build a prefab house from shipping containers and still meet Passivhaus requirements?

Asked by Nick Losi
Olympia, WA

I am looking to design a house using recycled shipping containers (i.e., the weeHouse by Alchemy architects) but would like the house to meet the Passivhaus requirements for airtightness, heating/cooling efficiency, and primary energy use. This structure would be located near Olympia, WA. Is it possible to construct a Passivhaus from shipping containers? How would one incorporate high performance windows and doors into such a structure?


The German Passive House Technology has been used successfully in thousands of buildings -- from single and multifamily residences, to schools, factories and office buildings -- over the past 10 years in Europe. This concept can help reduce energy consumption by up to 90% while at the same time creating a comfortable building. Currently, only a handful of passive homes have been developed in the United States, where the following improved construction methods are used:

+ more insulation
+ better windows
+ high air-tightness
+ heat recovery from exhaust air

You can find a description of this concept at the Passive House Institute U.S. More detailed information is available at the Passive House Institute in Darmstadt, Germany.

Yes, it is possible to build a Passive House out of shipping containers. Your question of how to incorporate high performance windows and doors into such a structure depends on the final design of your house. Will the house consist of a single container? Will it be constructed out of multiple containers? Will the shipping containers be incorporated in a structure using other construction methods? Very important also is the amount of glazing of your structure as well as its orientation. Additionally you have to consider local building codes and restrictions. We would recommend you work with an architect experienced in pulling permits for residential container structures as well as someone familiar with the Passive House Technology.

With expertise in both container architecture and Passive House Technology, our German-American architectural studio with collaborators in Portland would be very interested in developing such a prototype with you. You can find an example of a container city in New Mexico on our webpage.

Tagged In: passive solar, passive house

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