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  • Writer's pictureBrett Sichello

An Introduction To Passive House

Updated: Apr 15, 2019

What is a Passive House (Passivhaus)?

A Passive House is an energy efficient, comfortable and surprisingly affordable home construction standard that can achieve massive energy savings compared to typical minimum building code new home construction. A passive house results in significant cost savings each and every year as well as over the life of the home.

In our opinion, a Passive House is quite simply the future of housing! That's a pretty big statement but once you see the cost savings over the life of a passive house, compared to a typical Canadian home, you'll be asking why do we continue to build such poorly insulated and sealed homes in Canada?

How Energy Efficient is a Passive House?

Passive Houses are designed to be incredibly energy efficient. With a high level of insulation and an airtight building envelope, the key to the design is to minimize heat loss and to maximize solar heat gain. By designing building envelopes that incorporate "thermal bridge free design", energy loss is significantly reduced around windows, exterior doors, mechanical openings, corners of the building and junction points in between the roof and the walls. Using high quality windows (minimum triple glazed) and insulated exterior doors are an absolute must in a passive house.

These energy saving design techniques are proven, measurable and have been verified in over 20,000 homes throughout the world.

What Does a Passive House Look Like?

A Passive House can be traditional or contemporary but the key to a Passive

House is the simplicity in its plan. By reducing the number of exterior corners to 4 - 6, energy loss is minimized at the exterior corners.

With over 20,000 certified energy efficient Passive Houses worldwide the options are practically endless and here are just a few examples of both contemporary and traditional passive houses from Canada, United States, Germany and France. All clients are unique therefore all passive homes are unique to that particular clients needs and wants.

How is a Passive House Heated and Cooled?

A Passive House takes advantage of the largest free source of energy on the planet, the sun. By orienting the main windows in the house to face south, there is a significant amount of energy gain within the home. The sun along with the heat given off from the homes occupants and the heat given off from the appliances is all that is required to keep the home comfortable year round even in harsh Canadian winters.

A ventilation system is still required to provide fresh air throughout the home.

The ventilation system transfers fresh air into the home from the exterior while a heat exchanger extracts the wasted heat from the air that is exhausted to the exterior.

The excess heat is then recycled within the heat exchanger unit to heat the fresh air coming into the home.

Cooling a passive home relies on its super insulated shell and the air tight building envelope which prevent the sun from heating up the home. Designing the roof to have large overhangs, operable shutters on the windows and even light cladding colours are all basic strategies that when coupled with effective natural ventilation ensure that a passive home is cool throughout the hot summer months

Are Passive Houses Comfortable?

Extremely comfortable, so comfortable that Passive Homes are designed without a heat source such as a furnace. Even in Canada, typically the heat source is the body heat from the residents in combination with solar heat entering the building. That's right, body heat and sunlight, no furnace and again this has been proven, measured and verified in over 20,000 homes throughout the world.

Due to the well sealed building envelope all that is required is a basic ventilation system which supplies fresh air making for superior air quality without causing any unpleasant draughts. A ventilation system coupled with a highly efficient heat recovery unit captures the heat in the exhausted air so that it can be re-used.

Summer or winter, you can be assured that your Passive Home will provide a maximum level of comfort with reasonable construction costs - something that is repeatedly confirmed by Passive House residents.

Here is an example of one of the first Passive Homes ever built and it was actually built in Regina, Saskatchewan. This home's heat source was a hair dryer, in Regina, Saskatchewan! Brett grew up in Saskatchewan so he is well aware of how cold it gets in the winter! Step Inside the Real Home of the Future: Passivhaus - Canadians helped invent a house so efficient you could heat it with a hair dryer. Then we forgot about it.

Is a Passive House Affordable?

Not only do Passive Houses deliver substantial savings over the life of the home, they are surprisingly affordable to begin with. On average, in Canada, a Passive Home costs roughly 2 - 15% more in initial construction costs when compared to a conventional home depending on the location. By investing in higher quality building components homeowners are finding that their savings in energy costs have resulted in a very similar totally monthly cost of owning a conventional house. Above and beyond the cost savings, a Passive House owner also enjoys better indoor air quality and overall comfort. Building a significantly better quality, smart home is a hedge against rising energy prices in the future. Ask yourself, when was the last time gas or energy prices went down?

One of the biggest cost savings in Passive Houses is that they do not require conventional heating and cooling systems therefore those savings can be invested into superior quality windows, insulation and a ventilation system.

What are the Potential Cost Savings of a Passive House Compared to a Typical Canadian Home?

A recent 2,700 sf Passive House built in Whistler, BC, had an energy bill of $280.00 for the entire year. Had the home been built to minimum building code standards, like most Canadian homes, the annual cost on average would be about $3,000/year. Consider the cost of owning this Passive home compared to a typical Canadian home over a period of 40 years:

Why are Conventional Canadian Homes Significantly Less Efficient and Why do They End Up Costing So Much More than Passive Houses?

Three words...minimum building code! More specifically, insufficient insulation, vapour barriers that are inevitably punctured, thermal bridging, poor quality windows, doors and overall components and dated construction techniques. To summarize, poor building envelopes! To make up for these subpar practices a furnace and an air conditioner are required to make up for all of that energy loss which ends up costing homeowners each and every year.

If you read our other blog posts you'll start to understand why we are so passionate about better quality homes and construction throughout Canada.

Want to Learn More about Passive House?

You can contact Brett Sichello Design and we would be happy to discuss Passive Homes, energy efficiency or any questions that you may have. We look forward to hearing your comments and if you have questions please contact us at or call us at 250 869 7985.

In the meantime, here are some links from around the web if you would like to learn more. Keep in mind, there are already over 20,000 certified Passive Houses throughout the world so this isn't pie in the sky stuff, its tangible, measurable and proven actually quite simple technology. Here are some resources:


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