Passive House E-Design, Halifax, NS, Canada

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Did you know?
The Passive House Standard has been developed and verified in Europe over the last 15 years. There are now more than 30,000 buildings that are Passive House certified worldwide.

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Frequenty Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. The Passive House standard is based on the climates of Europe. Can it be applied to the climate zones in Canada?
  2. Is Passive House an experimental concept?
  3. Can Passive House's air-tight construction lead to moisture or air quality problems?
  4. How does the cost of Passive House construction compare to that of standard building?
  5. Is a Passive House a complicated, high-tech house that is difficult to operate and maintain?
  6. Does the Passive House concept limit the design possibilities of the home?
  7. Can the Passive House Concept be used to retrofit or remodel existing buildings?
  8. Is a Passive House also a Zero Energy House?

1. The Passive House standard is based on the climates of Europe. Can it be applied to the climate zones in Canada?
Three buildings in Canada have been Passive House certified. We currently have five houses going through the certification process, and the first building to be certified in Atlantic Canada was our Hawkins House. The idea of "super-insulated" houses began in Canada with the Saskatchewan House in 1978, but the idea fell out of favour when energy prices dropped. Continued high utility rates in Germany generated a market for ultra-efficient building envelopes, and the idea of super-insulated houses developed into Passive House. With interest in high-performance homes again increasing, we find that careful design and construction can make Passive Houses in Atlantic Canada a reality.

2. Is Passive House an experimental concept?
No. Passive House has scientific and engineering validity as well as tried-and-true practical success. There are currently more than 45,000 Passive House buildings worldwide. The oldest among them have been operating since 1991. Many Passive Houses have been monitored and their performance validated, with average overall energy consumption proved to be on target. The European and American successes and experiences serve as a great resource for Passive House design in Canada, and we take time to attend the annual Passive House conference in order to share our experiences while staying on top of the most efficient and effective materials and methods.

3. Can Passive House's air-tight construction lead to moisture or air quality problems?
This is the concern we hear most frequently. We are passionate about building science and design all our envelopes to contain appropriate air and vapor barriers, and use breathable assemblies to ensure moisture cannot be trapped inside. People are often very concerned that the very air-tight envelope of a Passive House will result in poor indoor air quality. However, the majority of moisture and mold problems in a house is due to poorly controlled air movement, and not vapor diffusion. Moisture generated inside the house is handled by a balanced mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery, which assures superior air-quality and comfort by continually exchanging the indoor air. By constantly replacing stale air, moisture is safely removed, as well as other potentially unhealthy pollutants.

4. How does the cost of Passive House construction compare to that of standard building?
We have found that Passive House construction in Nova Scotia costs an additional 5 - 10%. Finished costs for our houses range from $160-$200 /sqft for heated space and $80-$100 /sqft for unheated space. Added insulation and high performance windows and doors increase the cost while downsized mechanical systems decrease costs. Both added insulation and smaller mechanical systems decrease operating costs. In addition, rebates are available for very high-efficiency homes. While the high quality of Passive House building components will be reflected in higher up-front costs, the life-cycle costs of owning and operating a Passive House tend to be much lower. Our experiences have shown that the combined mortgage and utility costs are the same when comparing a new Passive House and an identical code-built home.

5. Is a Passive House a complicated, high-tech house that is difficult to operate and maintain?
No. Passive House is focused on a very high-performance building envelope. Without any complex systems needed to generate electricity and heat, mechanical systems are easy to operate and maintain. We try to think of the house less as a machine and more like a warm duvet.

6. Does the Passive House concept limit the design possibilities of the home?
In theory, there are no limits for design in a Passive House. In practice, the difficult climate of Nova Scotia combined with the realities of client budgets tend to favor simple, regular forms for the envelope of our houses. These can then be enlivened with unheated spaces: screen porches, decks and verandas, etc. Lots of large windows are needed on the south side, with few small windows on the north. The majority of energy savings will come from these basic design moves, and once the Passive House principles are considered, the particular style of a house is unlimited. Finishes and materials can be freely chosen. The future of architecture is high-performance sustainable building: we believe that building to the Passive House standard is an opportunity rather than a limitation.

7. Can the Passive House Concept be used to retrofit or remodel existing buildings?
Passive House standard can be utilized for existing buildings and has successfully been applied to retrofit projects is Europe. The energy performance standard of the retrofit is lower than the new construction standard due to existing thermal bridges in the building envelope. However, the cost of these projects is substantial and may not be justified by the energy savings at current energy costs in Canada. Rising energy prices are likely to make Passive House retrofits more economical.

8. Is a Passive House also a Zero Energy House?
The Passive House standard is focused on energy conservation. Without adding some type of renewable power generation, a Passive House will require a small amount of energy to provide heating and electricity. Because a Passive House is so efficient, it provides an excellent foundation in the move toward Net Zero Energy homes. To a high degree, it is more cost effective to save energy within the building envelope than it is to generate energy onsite. We currently have one Net-Zero project and one off-grid project completed in Nova Scotia. As costs of wind, solar and other renewable technologies are reduced in the future, a well-built Passive House can easily move to Zero Energy.

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