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passive house doors

A Look at Passive House Doors

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
May 17, 2021

Cutting back on the amount of energy we use in our homes is one of the most important things to reduce our carbon footprint. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the heating and cooling of houses lead to roughly 441 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. Because our HVAC equipment is responsible for almost half of our home energy needs, finding ways to improve our home's energy efficiency and thermal performance is often the most effective way to reduce our energy consumption (and household energy bills)!

Passive house construction is widely considered to be the leading building technique in energy-efficient design. The Passive House standard has a rigorous focus on an airtight building envelope, high-quality insulation, and other air-sealing techniques that eliminate thermal bridging. The Passive House building standard also centers on installing high-performance windows, doors, and any other penetrations in the building envelope. Due to these design features, homes that achieve the different Passive House certifications will be completely net-zero or even net-positive energy use. Whether building from scratch or using the Passive House certification program for retrofits called EnerPHit, homeowners can expect to see an 80 to 90 percent reduction for space heating and cooling demand below the current code minimum. To learn more about Passive House design, check out this complete Rise guide.

Even if you can't afford a complete Passive House retrofit, replacing the doors in your home with a Passive House certified door is a simple and relatively affordable way to lower your energy consumption. In this complete guide to Passive House doors, we explain the benefits of these types of doors, the expected energy savings, and some of the best energy-efficient doors on the market today.

Table of Contents

  1. What Are Passive House Doors?
  2. What Types of Passive House Doors Are Available?
  3. How Much Energy Do Passive House Doors Save?
  4. How Long Does A Passive House Door Last?
  5. How Do You Install a Passive House Door?
  6. What Are The Best Brands of Passive House Doors?
  7. What Are The Benefits and Drawbacks of a Passive House Door?
passive house door hardware
Passive House Door Hardware. Photo Credit: Wayne Groszko

What Are Passive House Doors?

A Passive House door is an exterior door specifically designed to help homeowners meet the rigorous Passive House standard for energy efficiency and thermal performance. Passive House doors resemble a vault door. They are at least four inches thick and have multiple gaskets and latches to ensure maximum sealing. When you close a regular door, you can hear the door latch closing. With Passive House doors, however, a clear and distinct sealing sound is detectable upon closing.

Besides being much thicker than regular exterior doors, a Passive House door also has better insulation with a much improved R-value. This feature helps to lessen or even eliminate the thermal bridging that occurs through your home's exterior doors.

Specifically, doors that meet the international Passive House standard will have highly advanced energy efficiency features, including:

  • Three or more locking points along the edge of the door frame
  • Three seals between the door and the frame
  • Two seals along the bottom
  • Highly insulated body with at least R-10 insulation, twice as good as a standard door
  • If the door contains glass, it will be triple glazed with argon or krypton gas-filled spaces between the glazing.
passive house door latch
Passive House Door Latch. Photo Credit: Wayne Groszko

What Types of Passive House Doors Are Available?

It is essential to recognize that there are no specific certification criteria associated with passive house doors. If you find a manufacturer or a store selling a "Passive House-certified door," they are probably referring to the fact that the door meets the insulation and airtightness requirements necessary for a home to be certified as a Passive House. The specific requirements will depend on the climate where construction takes place.

However, most Passive House doors will be "graded" by their U-Factor, or insulating capability as a general rule of thumb. According to the US Department of Energy (DOE), the U-factor is the rate a window, door, or skylight conducts non-solar heat flow, generally measured in Btu/hr-ft2-°F.  

For doors, the lower the U-factor value, the more energy-efficient the door will be. Passive House certified doors (including those doors that have window inserts) typically have a U-factor of 0.14 Btu/hr-ft2-°F or less.

passive house third seal
Passive House Door Third Seal. Photo Credit: Wayne Groszko

How Much Energy Do Passive House Doors Save?

Most people associate heat loss or unwanted heat transfer in the house with poorly insulated walls, attics, and ceilings. Insufficient insulation will undoubtedly drive up your energy costs. However, air leaks around windows and doors are another major contributor to wasted energy in the home. 

Heat loss through doors also occurs via heat transfer mechanisms such as conduction and convection. The heat will move through the solid door parts such as the jambs, panels, sill, and rails with conduction. With convection, heat is lost due to air movement in the small spaces between the door and the frame.

Passive House doors are specifically designed to improve energy efficiency and thermal performance by reducing air leakage and heat transfer. The actual energy savings will depend on the type of door that is being replaced. However, the combination of low U-values, high insulation R-values, triple glazing of glass, zero thermal bridges, and complete airtightness will almost certainly lead to energy savings.

fenstur passive house door
Passive House Door. Photo Credit: Fenstur Door

How Long Does A Passive House Door Last?

Most people consider installing a passive house door to decrease air leakage or thermal bridging as part of a more comprehensive energy efficiency retrofit. However, another benefit of these doors is that they are significantly sturdier, longer-lasting, and more durable. The hardware used by the doors has a locking lever mechanism with multiple latches and locks. These features help compress the numerous gaskets and seals to ensure airtightness and offer added security for the home. The thickness of the doors (at least four inches) also guarantees more durability. In most cases, a Passive House door will last for a lifetime.

Cal Doors
Passive House Door. Photo Credit: Cal Doors

How Do You Install a Passive House Door?

Because Passive House doors come with several different latches and seals, installation generally requires a professional. Without correct installation, the magnetic and compression seals may not bond correctly, compromising the expected energy efficiency benefits. As a general rule of thumb, if you do not hear these components latch when the door closes, something is wrong with the installation.

Advanced engineering and design go into the construction of Passive House doors. One example is the flexibility of adjustment. They have four hinges and three locking points, and the installer can individually adjust each hinge and locking point. If your house shifts a little over time, as homes tend to do, the door can be adjusted so that it continues to seal appropriately. Thoughtful touches like this make these doors a cut above the rest and are an integral aspect of adaptable design or building a home that lasts for a lifetime.

Cascadia Universal Series Passive House Door
Cascadia Universal Series Passive House Door. Photo Credit: Cascadia

What Are The Best Brands of Passive House Doors?

Searching for a suitable Passive House entry door can be tricky. In the United States, the energy efficiency criteria for doors are set by the ENERGY STAR Program. ENERGY STAR-certified doors, however, allow for higher U-factors than the level that Passive House doors require. One way to search for Passive House doors is to check the variety of suitable Passive House Certified products visible on the Passive House Institute Component Database. You can see a complete list of Passive House certified doors manufactured around the world at this link.

Though many of the best Passive House doors are manufactured in Europe, there are a few North American manufacturers of Passive House doors. Cal Doors make the doors that can be purchased through Vetta Building Technologies in Canada. Other companies offering Passive House doors certified by the database mentioned above include Cascadia Windows and Doors and Fenstur Windows out of British Columbia. Neuffer Windows is another world-recognized leader in passive house doors, based out of Germany.

Neuffer Door
Neuffer Passive House Door. Photo Credit: Neuffer

What Are The Benefits and Drawbacks of a Passive House Door?

Garth Hood, Passive House designer and owner of Thoughtful Dwellings, chooses Passive House doors for all his design, construction, and renovation projects. We interviewed Garth to learn more about these fantastic doors and the benefits and drawbacks they offer.

Garth designs incredibly energy-efficient homes. The heating bill for a 1,600 square foot home he designed is less than $100 for an entire winter. Not per month, but for the whole winter. And that's in the cold winter climate of New Brunswick, Canada.

An integral part of a high-performance home is the entry door. According to Garth, Passive House doors offer the best combination of quality, aesthetics, and energy efficiency. "All Passive House products are above the mainstream," Hood tells us. 

Garth demonstrated closing and opening one of these doors. When the latches close, you can hear and feel the door making a tight seal. "It's a door that inspires confidence. It is four inches thick. When winter comes, you are going to feel snug when you go in your house and close this door," he states.

Beyond energy efficiency, the robust frame and extra locking points are highly secure against unwanted entry. And this door looks great. They come in various styles and finishes, but this one is a beautiful wood door.

Custom Passive House Door Hammer Hand
Custom Passive House Door. Photo Credit: Hammer & Hand

On the downside, Passive House doors are not cheap. The beautiful front door Garth showed us cost $3,000, shipped from Poland. American custom-built Passive House doors from Hammer & Hand in Portland, Oregon, USA, start at $8,000. Though that may sound like a lot for a door, these doors are many levels above ordinary doors regarding the quality, value, and durability they provide.

Says Garth Hood,

"Passive House doors offer excellent value because of their combination of high quality, longevity, superior thermal performance, security, and aesthetics. "
Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-05T18:13:10+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.