Passive house rules: High performance homes

Grant Brumpton lived in a very drafty, noisy, century-old home in East Vancouver. Initially, the landscape architect and his wife were going to renovate, but after speaking to Bryn Davidson, architect and principal Lanefab Design/Build, they opted on a new build. Not just any new home, a Passive House (PH).

“After Bryn explained to us what a Passive House was, I did more research and I was in,” says Brumpton. “We felt it was the right thing to do for the environment because it reduces gas emissions.” Brumpton loves that their new home has no drafts, is cozy year-round and better yet, they don’t hear “the sirens wailing or the neighbour’s happy dog.”

“I believe Passive Houses are the future,” Brumpton adds. “We should be supporting healthier homes and creating an opportunity for contractors to do better work.”

Essentially, a Passive House is designed to be extremely energy-efficient so that it doesn’t take a lot of power to heat or cool. So says Sandra Rohler, architect AIBC and co-founder Passive House Canada. “In very simple terms, a Passive House focusses on the house’s envelope, meaning walls, floors, windows, doors and roofs,” explains Rohler. “These houses are airtight and super insulated, so there is very little heat loss.”

A Passive House reduces our carbon footprint and energy consumption, so the houses are not only green, they require very little energy to run them. According to a Passive House Canada brochure, research has shown how sustainable they are – the energy consumption for heating and cooling in Passive House buildings is roughly 80 per cent lower than in conventional buildings.

“Built for the 2010 Winter Games, Whistler’s Austria House was the first Passive House building in B.C.,” says Rohler. “It costs approximately $290 per year to heat … that is amazing considering it’s a coffee house and rental building today.”

Although a Passive House does translate into lower operating costs, Rohler says there’s no comparison in comfort between living in a passive and conventional home. “The best thing you can do in terms of savings and comfort is to live in a Passive House,” adds Rohler.

When Davidson – who built Brumpton’s house – founded Lanefab a decade ago, it was with a desire to build healthier, greener homes. A few years later, when he discovered Passive Houses, it became “our default standard for all of our homes.”

“We were already creating homes with a lot of Passive House features, but in 2015 we decided to build only PH,” says Davidson. “So far, we’ve built three and we have six more under construction.” Davidson explained that Passive Houses are designed with super-insulation, high performance windows, an airtight building shell and the use of a high efficiency ventilation system with heat recovery (HRV), which exchanges the interior air with fresh outside air.

“The cost to build a Passive House is about 5 to 8 per cent more, but you can save between $120 to $150 on your utilities,” Davidson adds.

Passive Houses are certainly gaining momentum in B.C. Steve Chandra, principal of Alley Lane Homes Construction, began building PH’s in 2003. “A client requested a Passive House and it was really in its infancy in B.C.,” Chandra says. “It existed but it was not practised much by builders. I was intrigued and now all the houses I build use PH guidelines.”

Chandra admits it is still a hard sell with some home owners. “We still have to educate them on the benefits but normally, once they understand, they are sold,” adds Chandra.

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