Original Research

Energy Efficiency

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 411-431

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Defining nearly zero-energy housing in Belgium and the Netherlands

  • Erwin MlecnikAffiliated withOTB Research Institute for the Built Environment, Delft University of TechnologyPassiefhuis-Platform vzw Email author 


Europe expects the housing sector to evolve towards ‘nearly zero-energy’ dwellings. Meanwhile, general terms and research, marketing and legal definitions considering such dwellings have already been introduced. Appraisal of existing definitions is now needed for further policy development. This paper examines what nearly zero-energy terms can be expected to be adopted in Belgium and the Netherlands. The research method uses an interview method based on innovation diffusion theory. The analysis traces the regional adoption trajectory of relevant definitions and examines the opportunities and barriers for the inclusion of existing definitions in regional energy policy. The analysis shows that—whilst international prominence of the terms ‘net zero energy’ and ‘net zero carbon’, in addition to ‘low energy’ and ‘passive house’, is observed—in Belgium and the Netherlands ‘passive house’ and ‘energy neutral’ are preferred. The research findings indicate that the adoption of already existing definitions for nearly zero-energy houses will depend on the region and can prove a very complex process with several conflicting issues. Terms should be clearly defined and used at all political and marketing levels. It is recommended to enhance the relative advantage, demonstrability, visibility and compatibility of favoured definitions by policy initiatives.


Buildings Energy efficiency Policy instruments Passive house Zero energy