During winter days, most Canadian houses become freezing cold quickly after the furnace is shut off. This means that cold air quickly enters these houses due to poor installation or thin windows. Passive house is a concept that focuses on building energy efficient homes from the outside in. Itfocuses on design that reduces heating costs and energy consumption.
The first passive houses were built in Germany in 1990. Since then, the concept has been spread throughout Europe and into North America, though it is still not as popular here as it is in Germany.
To build an official passive house, it is necessary to comply with ridged standards. A passive house must consume no more than 15 kilowatt hours per metre squared. Today in Canada, an average house consumes 150 kilowatt hours per metre squared.In order to meet the standards, the energy consumption has to be 90 per cent less than in a typical house.
Due to Canadian winters these requirements are not easy to meet, but according to Terrell Wong, an architect who specializes in passive house design, they are helpful.
“I applaud the pioneers who can make a certified passive house- that means they have done an amazing job and created a fantastic building,” she says.
Mike Reynolds, eco homes expert from www.ecohome.net, says consumers should be more aware of the concept than of the actual certification. He says if your house consumes 16 kilowatt hours per metre squared, pushing to reduce it to 15 is not necessary.
“There’s a point when you’d be throwing away money and actually creating a bigger carbon footprint to try to meet the standards,” he says. “It’s best to just focus on the concept of the designand do whatever works for you.”
Terrell agrees, and lives in a house that isn’t quite passive house certified. She retrofitted a 100 year old house and says that she has reduced much of her heating and cooling costs.
She adds that 30 per cent of energy costs depend on individual habits. Things like leavings lights on or using inefficient appliances leads to a less efficient home.
The cost of building a passive house in Canada depends on each building. A Passive house Edmonton high-rise apartment building was actually less money to build than a standard building. According to David Elfstrom, founder of Passive Buildings Canada, an average passive house is about 10 to 15 per cent more costly than one built only to the minimum building codes.
“It’s becoming less expensive. I used to have to import special windows from Germany but now North American companies sell them,” says Terrell. “The passive house movement is all about pushing for change. We are like mosquitoes annoying the public and private sectors to move forward towards more sustainable living.”
Photo: The image in the corner captures a thermal picture of passive home, next to a regular home. The heat from the neighbours home is lighting up the sky.
By Alyssa McMurtry, Photos provided by Terrell Wong, Stone's Throw Design Inc.