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Passive House Flooring

What’s the Best Passive House Flooring?

We discuss the key considerations when choosing the best passive house flooring

With passive houses becoming increasingly popular we’re frequently asked what are the best passive house flooring options and how these choices influence the overall design and performance of a passive house.

What is a passive house?

A passive house, also known as a passive solar house, is a type of building designed to achieve high levels of energy efficiency and thermal comfort without relying heavily on active heating and cooling systems. The concept of passive houses originated in the 1970s in response to the energy crisis and the need for more sustainable building practices.

Key features of a passive house include:

Superior Insulation: Passive houses are heavily insulated to minimise heat loss during the winter and heat gain during the summer. High-quality insulation is typically used in walls, floors, and roofs to create a highly airtight building envelope.

High-performance Windows and Doors: Passive houses feature triple-pane windows and well-insulated doors to minimise heat transfer and prevent drafts. These windows are strategically oriented to maximise solar gain during the winter while minimising overheating in the summer.

Airtight Construction: Passive houses are constructed to be highly airtight to prevent air leakage and maintain consistent indoor temperatures. This helps to reduce heating and cooling loads and improve overall energy efficiency.

Ventilation with Heat Recovery: Passive houses incorporate mechanical ventilation systems with heat recovery to ensure a constant supply of fresh air while recovering heat from outgoing air. This helps to maintain indoor air quality and reduce the need for traditional heating and cooling systems.

Passive Solar Design: Passive houses are designed to maximise the use of natural sunlight for heating and lighting. This includes strategic placement of windows and the use of thermal mass to store and distribute solar heat throughout the building.

Energy-efficient Appliances and Lighting: Passive houses often use energy-efficient appliances and lighting fixtures to further reduce energy consumption and minimise the need for active heating and cooling.

The goal of a passive house is to significantly reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling, typically by around 80% compared to conventional buildings, while providing a comfortable and healthy indoor environment for occupants. Passive houses are recognized for their sustainability, energy efficiency, and superior thermal comfort, making them an increasingly popular choice for residential and commercial construction projects around the world.

What are the key considerations when choosing floor coverings for a passive house?

Thermal Mass

The role thermal mass plays in storing and distributing solar heat is important to the overall performance of the building. Collecting heat from south facing windows is an excellent approach to reducing dependence on powered heating systems. However most people will not want to live on a bare concrete floor, so how the final floor covering affects the performance of the thermal mass should be considered. 

Intuitively, covering a concrete slab with a floor covering might be expected to insulate the slab, reducing it’s ability to absorb heat from the sun during the day. However our research suggests that this effect would be minimal. And any gains are simply not significant enough to justify living with a flooring you don’t like. 

The key is that the slab is insulated underneath and you have high grade insulation in walls, ceilings and windows. This ensures that once solar heat enters your home, it’s kept within the envelope of your building. 

Insulation Factor of the Floor Covering

In a similar vein to the above comment on Thermal Mass, the insulating factor of your floor covering is not relevant as long as the external envelope of your building has been properly insulated.

What is more relevant on a day to day basis is the thermal conductivity of your floor covering. This means how easily heat is conducted between your feet and the floor. Materials of high heat conductivity like stone or tile will feel colder underfoot, whereas materials of low heat conductivity like cork, wood or wool will feel warmer underfoot and therefore more comfortable to live on. This is particularly relevant on cooler days for unheated floors or when you’re wanting to avoid switching the underfloor heating on as frequently.

Interactions of Floor Coverings with Underfloor Heating

Underfloor heating or UFH is becoming increasingly popular with all styles of homes and can be particularly relevant when used with heat pump heating systems.

It’s important to ensure that your particular UFH system is compatible with your chosen floorcovering.

As a general guide you will want to minimise the effects of anything that will slow the transfer of heat from the UFH, through the floor and into the room. You should ensure that there is excellent contact between the floorcovering and surface of the sub-floor so you should fully adhere your floorcovering if possible, rather than install as a floating floor.

The thermal conductivity of the floorcovering is also important, ensure that the conductivity rating is as low as possible as this will help speed transfer of heat. However you should ensure that you balance this with the point above – a floor covering that instantly feels cold when the active heating is switched off may not be the most comfortable floor to live on day to day.

For carpet installations, thermal conductivity is normally expressed in terms of tog, like duvet covers. Aim for an underlay and carpet combined tog rating of less than 2.5 tog for best performance.

It’s important to understand that in any heating system there are a large number of variables and considerations. As before a slight deviation from the guidelines above to achieve your favoured aesthetic is unlikely to make significant differences in the performance of your UFH system. 

At worst, a slightly thicker or more insulating floor covering will slow the transfer of heat slightly. As long as you maintain the temperature of the property at a steady, comfortable temperature it’s unlikely to make a noticeable difference day to day.

VOCs and Airborne Pollutants

A key consideration for many is the presence of high levels of VOCs. These are volatile organic compounds released from all materials but in greater degrees from man-made plastic/oil based materials.

VOCs can cause harm to health particularly in children or in people with specific sensitivities or asthma. 

In a highly insulated passive house it’s important to made decisions that will reduce the chance of build up of VOCs.

Our advice is to choose options with low or very low VOCs. All our laminate floors and cork flooring are rated A+ Very Low VOCs.

Carpets made from natural materials such as our undyed 100% wool carpets are also very low VOCs. 

Quality, Durability and Sustainability

The key principles of passive house design are based around sustainability and reducing reliance on energy inputs. The same principles should apply to the products used to furnish a passive house. 

Choose products that are made from sustainable or eco-friendly materials. Cork, Wool and Sisal are all materials grown in sustainable ways. Their harvest and re-growth takes carbon out of the atmosphere.

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