PASSIVE HOUSE IS THE FUTURE
Updated: Sep 27, 2020
How wild would it be if your house were affordable, super comfortable and healthy, long lasting and eco-friendly all at once?
And how far fetched is it to think that such a house could still have all the modern design features, amenities and literally look like the nicest house on the block?
When we think about a new house coming up for sale right now, most of us think about the style of the house and how the finishes look on the interior. We like it to look sexy! Yes, we are all suckers for glossy listings with nice photos and houses that could be out of a magazine or TV show.
Let's say we know what our dream home looks like, we can imagine its style and finishes and boy, does it ever look good. But beyond the pretty pictures, can it have the backbone and infrastructure to do all those other nice things too?
Our wish list continues:
We want our house to be as comfortable as one can possibly make it and it should be healthy to live in.
After the initial investment, we want our house to be worry-free. All homeowners know there is always a “honey do list” for repairs around the house. Wouldn’t it be nice to minimize these projects and expenses? And on top of that, we want our regular operating cost to be cheap, cheap, cheap!
And lastly, we want our house to withstand the test of time and make a difference in our own ecological footprint. It is undeniable that our global society is facing large challenges and climate change is a major one. We all need to think about where our energy comes from now and in the future. To the individual person, the ecological challenge may seem overwhelming. But we need to remember that we can make choices every day that can make a considerable difference. Everyone can reduce their carbon footprint!
Our answer to all of this is...a passive house!
The Passive House Standard is a winner on multiple levels, with clear objectives, simple principles and broad advantages. In fact, it can be argued that Passive House is the world’s leading standard on energy efficient building design.
Passive House Institute itself states the main target as Passive Houses offering high living comfort inside the house. At the same time, passive houses achieve
low monthly cost for utility bills and financing the upfront investment,
excellent property value retention / appreciation and
largely reduced environmental impacts.
Yes, this all sounds too good to be true and maybe a little lofty, but let’s dive in and explore these aspects in some more detail:
Advantage 1: Cost savings
For you as a private homeowner, but also for businesses and public buildings, the business case needs to add up. Most people will always prioritize dollars over comfort or being green. The discussion needs to be much more focused and less idealistic.
By being super energy efficient (up to 90% better than a conventional home), passive houses use very little energy for heating and cooling. A lot of the passive houses in colder climates no longer have air conditioners and the heaters used are only the size of a toaster. By using energy efficient appliances, consumption can be lowered even further. And lower monthly energy consumption equals lower energy bills!
Now think about energy prices in the future. Today, people think our energy prices are high. Do you really think this will improve in future?
Just for a bit of perspective here: In Ontario the average cost of energy is 12.5 c/kWh. In Germany, the home of Passive House, the 2019 average cost was 46.5 c/kWh (or 30.4 Euro cents/kWh). Our natural gas supply rate is via Enbridge 10.43c/m3, not including any customer or delivery surcharges or taxes. This is equivalent to 0.99 c/kWh, whereas in Germany this rate was at 9.01 c/kWh (or 5.89 Euro c/kWh). We may not get to the same cost levels soon, but our energy cost will inevitably go up.
But it’s not just about the energy savings and your monthly utility bills alone. We need to look at the total cost of ownership.
Due to a combination of factors, passive houses also save you on long term building maintenance and repair costs, because they provide a higher quality building. These factors include the selection of superior components in insulation, windows and doors, elimination of thermal bridges and an altogether better building envelope (the outer structure / shell of a house). Combined, this leads to better air quality with less risk for moisture and mold, and simply a longer lasting structure.
Cost savings add up further when energy efficiency becomes a standard requirement that is supported by government policies and building codes. A home that saves on the operating cost, has a long lifespan and is on track for meeting future energy efficiency requirements will further shine in its equity and resale value down the road. A potential home buyer will see added value in such a home.
In terms of the upfront investment, Passive House Canada estimates the additional construction cost to upgrade from a regular home to a passive house at about 10%, see link below. With our builder, we came in at around this same number too.
We found an interesting business case calculation from a Canadian engineering firm linked below that mostly looks at the energy cost savings. At the end, it comes down to:
Financing cost for the additional construction cost up front (increased monthly mortgage payments for the most of us)
Monthly savings in operating cost + annual savings in maintenance and repair + gain in comparable resale value
We encourage you to calculate it out for yourself. Use the energy (electricity + gas) cost in your area. Consider your maintenance plans and average repairs. Run the numbers.
Advantage 2: Living comfort and health benefits
Passive houses feel very comfortable inside and there are two good reasons for that:
The excellent insulation keeps indoor temperatures very consistent, without any major swings up or down. This also transfers to the interior surfaces, like kitchen countertops, floors, and furniture. Once dialed in to the right temperature settings, things feel good pretty much all the time. An added benefit of the insulation is better noise insulation from the exterior too, so passive houses feel rather quiet (…well, that depends on what you have going on inside of course).
Passive houses are equipped with air ventilation systems with a built-in heat exchanger. This provides a constant flow of fresh air at room temperature. The fresh air supply is not just good for all around comfort, but it also helps you to concentrate for working at home or doing homework. The better control of the external environmental factors combined with good air filtration will also help keep airborne allergens out.
We cannot emphasize this point enough: Passive houses are very comfortable!
As we are sitting in front of our home office window during a heat warning, we are cursing the air conditioning not properly reaching the upstairs bedrooms. A separate fan must help provide a cooling breeze. Back in March in the very same spot, we couldn’t get warm all day with thick socks and a hoodie on. An undersized HVAC system that no re-balancing can overcome, regular double-pane windows and basic wall and attic insulation will do just that. And our house is only seven years old…
Advantage 3: Sustainability
The incredible energy efficiency of a passive house helps to use less energy from the grid and thereby limits the amount of fossil fuels or nuclear energy being consumed. By significantly cutting down on our own CO2 emissions, we are becoming more eco-friendly.
The low amount of energy required to operate a passive house makes it an excellent pairing for renewable energy as well. Many people add solar panels to their passive homes, or wind power. We are making our house ready for such an upgrade later, when it then makes more financial sense for us personally. Including it right from the beginning may be the best way to go for you.
In the spirit of making the best use of the available resources, you can choose other options to add to the passive house principles, e.g.
geothermal ground loops for heating and cooling both water and air,
use rain water (rain water system) or water from primary users like a shower, to flush your toilet (greywater system),
a green roof,
Add these environmental benefits up and you'll get a high-quality building that will last long and you'll end up with a very sustainable solution!
In one of our earlier blog posts, we said future-proofing is one of the reasons to build a custom home. And we firmly believe that the Passive House standard let us do just that. Our home will be cost effective to live in, last a long time and be comfortable.
On a broader scale, we also believe governments will introduce more and more incentives for energy efficient homes and renewable energy generation in a distributed power grid. The Passive House concept will enable more developers and homeowners to take advantage of these incentives, e.g. tax credits, reduced insurance rates, financing support. And it will make energy efficient houses more attractive to buy.
Passive houses have a positive track record and their benefits are real. This is slowly getting noticed here in Canada as well. We have linked two articles below on Toronto Public Housing going for a passive house project and Passive House being considered by Waterfront Toronto as one of the concepts replacing the Google Sidewalks Labs project. There is tangible momentum in adopting the passive house concepts on a larger scale.
For us, we have made our decision:
With a passive house, it all comes down to doing more with less and that is a truly sustainable approach we can fully get onboard with!
So if you're looking to build your dream home and imagining all the ways it can look sexy and sleek, also try envisioning the cost savings, living comfort and energy efficiency. A clear vision can go a long way and make your dream home your forever home.