Quiet is the unsung benefit of Passive House buildings. Because Passive House design uses an “envelope-first” approach that emphasizes air sealing and generous insulation, it creates a natural acoustic barrier to the outside. This provides a respite from noise for building occupants, particularly on urban sites.
“It’s cool, it’s quiet, and I don’t even hear the train,” Georgye Hamlin told Politico Magazine of her summer experience living at the Orchards of Orenco Passive House apartment building west of Portland, Oregon. “Yay for German engineering!”
We asked the acoustic engineers at SSA Acoustics to evaluate just how significant the noise reduction in Passive House buildings is. They studied the design of a 12’ by 9’ section of exterior wall from a typical multifamily unit, comparing two versions of the wall: one using conventional construction and double-paned windows, the other employing Passive House thickness, insulation, airtightness, and triple-paned glazing.
Thanks mainly to the greater thickness of both wall and windows, the Passive House wall reduced exterior noise penetration by roughly 10 decibels. And that's before making materials selections that could further reduce sound penetration, like insulating with mineral wool, a naturally soundproof product. The exact reduction will vary depending on site conditions and design choices.
Because decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, that 10 decibel reduction is equivalent to a 50% reduction in perceived loudness. According to the Federal Interagency Committee on Noise, that’s the difference between “annoying” and “quiet” levels of sound, or the difference between the noise from a vacuum cleaner and the sound of background music.
So build that Passive House building, turn on the Coltrane, and chill out in peace and quiet.
P.S. Check out this great demonstration of the quiet of Passive House: