Exploring Passive House – Vancouver Island

The grandparents' living area on the ground floor opens onto a spacious patio. Each floor has a large overhang to give protection from the summer sun, when itÕs high in the sky. In the winter, when rays come at a lower angle, they are unimpeded by overhangs. Photograph By Derek Ford

The grandparents’ living area on the ground floor opens onto a spacious patio. Each floor has a large overhang to give protection from the summer sun, when itÕs high in the sky. In the winter, when rays come at a lower angle, they are unimpeded by overhangs. Photograph By Derek Ford

More than a thousand people have toured this home and they weren’t there because it was on an interior-design list or part of a fundraising effort. Hundreds of people — mostly government officials and building and industry professionals — have beaten a path to its vault-like door because they wanted to see how this building “performs” and precisely how it was constructed.

They were curious to check out Vancouver Island’s first house built to the International Passive House Standard, a level of energy efficiency said to offer unsurpassed thermal comfort and indoor air quality, with minimal operating costs.

“A lot of people talk about their houses in terms of passive heating — the term is thrown around very loosely, and they usually mean they receive solar gain through south-facing windows,” said co-owner Rob Bernhardt.

But this 3,800-square-foot house is the real deal, certified and built to a standard based on detailed scientific criteria and “functional efficiency” relating to a strict definition of kilowatt hours per square metres.

Simply put, this house consumes 90 per cent less heating-and-cooling energy than a typical house of the same size.

It took eight months to build and cost $200 a square foot including landscaping, which is astronomically cheap for a custom house, said Rob.

“And we aim to do better next time.”

The wall assembly features a two-by-eight wood-frame structural wall with plywood sheathing on the exterior, while the interior is sheathed in OSB board with the cavity filled with dense-pack cellulose insulation. Photograph By Derek Ford

The wall assembly features a two-by-eight wood-frame structural wall with plywood sheathing on the exterior, while the interior is sheathed in OSB board with the cavity filled with dense-pack cellulose insulation. Photograph By Derek Ford

He and his son Mark Bernhardt, who owns Bernhardt Contracting, researched the project together and Mark built it.

“It is a standard that is very popular in Europe and starting to become more common in North America,” said Mark, adding the European Union has decided that by 2020, all new buildings should be built at this level of efficiency.

It is a standard that is achievable today at a very affordable price, he said.

The total cost of this home was only three to four per cent higher than a traditional build — roughly $40,000 of the $750,000 total — and this expense was offset immediately in part because the house didn’t need a furnace or air conditioner, and heating bills are phenomenally low.

Since it was completed in 2013, heating bills have ranged from $160 to $210 per year. There are no expensive mechanical systems to maintain and they don’t even have a fireplace, as the house is so warm. (Interestingly they have no televisions either: “That’s yesterday’s technology,” said Mark.)

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