Interview with Malcolm Isaacs, Canada’s most experienced Passive House designer, educator, and Director of the Canadian Passive House Institute, to get the goods on why Passive Houses are catching on so quickly.
Passive House is the most energy-efficient home building standard globally, initially developed in Germany and adapted to Canada’s extreme climate conditions. The goal of Passive House is to make your home so well insulated that it can be heated in winter with the equivalent of a couple of hairdryers and cooled in summer with the tiniest heat pump. All that while providing unequaled thermal comfort, high quality, and durability.
The number of Passive House designers is growing fast. The first Passive House designers in Canada were certified in 2012. Now, just five years later, over 120 designers and builders have passed the difficult test to become certified, and that number is headed for 200 in the next year. If you are looking to have a Passive House designed and built, your options are multiplying.
Are People Asking for Passive Houses?
Passive House is still a new concept to Canada; however, it is catching on. If you spend some time inside a Passive House on a cold winter day, you’ll feel the appeal of this kind of home. They have an exceptionally warm, comfortable, and quiet atmosphere because they are so well insulated. People who live in Passive Houses say it’s a different level of comfort than they’ve ever experienced.
How do Passive Houses achieve this comfort level while using 90% less heating energy than traditional homes? It’s because the design process pays so much attention to high insulation, air sealing, and high-quality (triple-glazed) windows and doors that there are no cold or drafty places in the house. All the surfaces in the whole home stay at a uniform warm temperature.
A client reported that on a cold winter night in their Passive House, the heating system didn’t even need to come on all night, and the temperature inside hardly dropped at all.
How Much More Expensive Is Passive House?
How much does it cost to be this comfortable? Over the long term, it costs you less than an ordinary new house because of the savings on energy bills. But you do need to be able to finance a little extra capital to get one built. According to Malcolm, the additional cost of Passive House construction over a regular home build in Canada is typically around $25,000. This is approximate – it varies with the size of the home and the finishes you choose. In most cases, the monthly energy savings more than make up for the increased mortgage payment.
What’s New in Passive House Design?
Passive House design and construction continue to evolve. Malcolm highlighted two improvements that are gaining ground this year:
SketchUp plug-in brings faster results: There is a new Passive House design plug-in for SketchUp, called designPH, that allows designers to test out various house shapes and more easily calculate the energy savings of each design. With this tool, a designer will produce and tweak the Passive House design you want and ensure it will have the required energy savings in less time.
Prefabricated walls bring down cost: Malcolm has started building Passive House projects with prefabricated wall sections built of cross-laminated timbers (CLT). These factory-built wall segments cut the on-site construction time of the building envelope to just a few days.
With advances in the efficiency of design and construction, Passive Houses are competing on cost, while providing excellent comfort and tiny energy bills.