Lees' passive house marks efficiency milestone - July 26, 2018
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
It’s just over six weeks into the build of what will be Huron County’s first passive house and Walton’s Chris Lee is pleased with what he’s seen so far.
Working with Devon Henry of Brussels, Lee has been relatively hands-on with the build, Henry said. He added that he always has to remind himself to bring one fewer employee than he needs, because Lee has always been there to lend a hand.
Henry has been the perfect man for the job, Lee said. The local has a passion for doing great work and building structures as efficiently as possible.
For Henry, as a professional, his passion for efficiency was borne out of his quest to build the best house he could. Through that process he eventually found passive house standards and strived to reach them when he built houses.
Henry has built his own house as a passive house hybrid. Many of the elements of his Brussels-area house are passive house-standard, but he built it before he was completely sold on the passive house concept, and installed a heating system, although he hasn’t had to use it.
The initial concept of a passive house dates back to the late 1980s in Germany, where the first “passivhaus” was built in the early 1990s. The term pertains to a voluntary standard of building applied to a house that makes it incredibly energy efficient and requires very little heating or cooling.
Due to the orientation of the building, strategic placement of elements such as windows and awnings and extremely efficient insulation in the walls, roof and windows, there is no need for a furnace or air-conditioning unit. It does, however, use a heat recovery unit (HRV), which provides the inside with fresh air without letting the house’s heat escape.
A properly-constructed passive house is said to use 90 per cent less energy than a standard house built to today’s building code. The remaining 10 per cent of heat can be provided by body heat, the sun, appliances, light bulbs and electronics.
Currently, the number of passive house structures (the term “passive house is not restricted to houses, but can be used for commercial buildings, office buildings and apartment buildings, etc.) number in the tens of thousands around the world, the vast majority of which are in Europe.
The standards for a passive house are laid out, chapter and verse, in the Passivhaus Planning Package, meaning that while many environmentally-efficient structures may use elements from the passive house concept, a structure must meet certain goals in order to be certified as a passive house.
First, the building must be designed to have an annual heating and cooling demand of not more than 15 kilowatt-hours per square metre per year, or be designed with a peak heat load of 10 watts per square metre.
Second, total primary energy consumption must not be more than 60 kilowatt-hours per square metre per year. And third, the building must not leak more air than 0.6 times the house volume per hour at 0.0073 pounds per square inch as tested by a blower door.
Just last week, Lee and Henry conducted the test on the Walton structure and it achieved a 0.5 rating, which is below the standard for a passive house rating.
How Lee came to want to build a passive house is very similar to how Henry arrived at the concept.
Lee was on a quest to build an efficient home for him and his wife Judy to live in once they retire and the deeper he got into his research the more it seemed like he was looking to build a passive house, he just didn’t know it yet.
It was in 2016, as succession planning at the Walton property began to pick up speed with the Lees’ son Brett taking over the raceway’s day-to-day operations, the Lees started looking to build a new house at the east end of the property, near the newly-installed Edge of Walton Challenge Course. Chris’s curiosity about building an efficient home took him down a rabbit hole where he would eventually end up considering a passive house as an option.
Lee began working with a passive house engineer in Guelph and then was able to bring Henry in on the project from neighbouring Brussels.
One of the critical factors of a passive house, Lee said, is to only build the house as big as it needs to be. The more space in the house, the harder it is to heat and to retain heat throughout its entire square-footage.
For a retirement home, Lee said that he and Judy only need the basics, but soon wanted to expand the home slightly. They got to the point where they were going to be able to, by design, add a smaller second floor to the house and not lose any efficiency.
The house is essentially flipped, he said, where they’re adding a basement on the top of the house, but with windows and a view.
While the exterior design of the house has changed drastically during the process, the interior has remained relatively consistent. This is the part of the process Lee says has been easy, because the construction process for a passive house isn’t much different from that of a code house – most of the differences are materials.
Henry agreed, saying that passive house structures don’t utilize space-age technology, but rather just very well-made and expertly-engineered components like windows, doors and insulation.
And, he said, it’s not as cost-prohibitive as people think it is. Lee said he’d be surprised if the house ends up costing 10 per cent more than a building code-compliant house would, money that would be made up very soon with hydro savings, among other efficiencies.
Henry says it really isn’t about changing building materials or methods, it’s about changing a way of thinking. If the state of mind changes and the will to build better houses is there, then the supply for more efficient building materials will follow as demand rises and local companies will get involved and begin producing those sought-after materials.
Just last week, Lee’s home was profiled on passivebuildings.ca., a blog dedicated to the creation of passive buildings throughout the country. It compares Lee’s vision of a passive house on his property in Walton to that of Ray Kinsella, the farmer in Field of Dreams played by Kevin Costner who feels compelled to build a baseball diamond in a field under the guise that “if you build it, he will come”. It also goes into great detail outlining the materials and methods used to build the house.