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passive house malcolm isaacs

Why Passive House is Taking-Off in Canada

By Wayne Groszko Rise Renewable Energy Expert
Oct 26, 2017

We interviewed Malcolm Isaacs, Canada’s most experienced Passive House designer, educator, and Director of the Canadian Passive House Institute, to get the goods on why Passive Houses are catching on so quickly.

Passive House is the most energy-efficient home building standard globally, initially developed in Germany and adapted to Canada’s extreme climate conditions. The goal of Passive House is to make your home so well insulated that it can be heated in winter with the equivalent of a couple of hairdryers and cooled in summer with the tiniest heat pump. All that while providing unequaled thermal comfort, high quality, and durability. You can learn more about Passive House in our Guide to Building Standards and our in-depth feature on a Passive House in Nova Scotia.

hanwell passive house thoughtful dwellings
Hanwell Passive House, New Brunswick, Canada. Photo courtesy of Thoughtful Dwellings

The number of Passive House designers is growing fast. The first Passive House designers in Canada were certified in 2012. Now, just five years later, over 120 designers and builders have passed the difficult test to become certified, and that number is headed for 200 in the next year. If you are looking to have a Passive House designed and built, your options are multiplying.

Are People Asking for Passive Houses?

Passive House is still a new concept to Canada; however, it is catching on. If you spend some time inside a Passive House on a cold winter day, you’ll feel the appeal of this kind of home. They have an exceptionally warm, comfortable, and quiet atmosphere because they are so well insulated. People who live in Passive Houses say it’s a different level of comfort than they’ve ever experienced.

"“You can explain the 90% energy savings, and people appreciate that. But what they really talk about is a level of comfort – wearing their boxer shorts around the house in winter, knowing they can spend next to nothing on energy bills and still keep the house so remarkably comfortable.” Malcolm Isaacs, Canadian Passive House Institute"

How do Passive Houses achieve this comfort level while using 90% less heating energy than traditional homes? It’s because the design process pays so much attention to high insulation, air sealing, and high-quality (triple-glazed) windows and doors that there are no cold or drafty places in the house. All the surfaces in the whole home stay at a uniform warm temperature.

Aspen Root Passive House Manitoba
Aspen Root Passive House, Sandy Hook, Manitoba. Photo courtesy of Eric Bjornson of Sundial Building Performance, and Lindsay Reid of Click-Studio.

A client reported that on a cold winter night in their Passive House, the heating system didn’t even need to come on all night, and the temperature inside hardly dropped at all.

How Much More Expensive Is Passive House?

How much does it cost to be this comfortable? Over the long term, it costs you less than an ordinary new house because of the savings on energy bills. But you do need to be able to finance a little extra capital to get one built. According to Malcolm, the additional cost of Passive House construction over a regular home build in Canada is typically around $25,000. This is approximate – it varies with the size of the home and the finishes you choose. In most cases, the monthly energy savings more than make up for the increased mortgage payment.

Passive House Sixplex British Columbia
Passive House sixplex, Yale First Nation, British Columbia. Photo courtesy of Britco Construction.

What’s New in Passive House Design?

Passive House design and construction continue to evolve. Malcolm highlighted two improvements that are gaining ground this year:

SketchUp plug-in brings faster results: There is a new Passive House design plug-in for SketchUp, called designPH, that allows designers to test out various house shapes and more easily calculate the energy savings of each design. With this tool, a designer will produce and tweak the Passive House design you want and ensure it will have the required energy savings in less time.

Prefabricated walls bring down cost: Malcolm has started building Passive House projects with prefabricated wall sections built of cross-laminated timbers (CLT). These factory-built wall segments cut the on-site construction time of the building envelope to just a few days.

"“With pre-built, cross-laminated timbers, we’re building Passive Houses in Quebec for $200 per square foot.” Malcolm Isaacs, Canadian Passive House Institute"

With advances in the efficiency of design and construction, Passive Houses are competing on cost, while providing excellent comfort and tiny energy bills.

montgomery passive house calgary
Montgomery Passive House in Calgary, Alberta. Photo courtesy of Melissa Valgardson and Frank Crawford.
Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-11-30T14:29:17+0000
Wayne Groszko

Article by:

Wayne Groszko

Wayne Groszko is a consultant, researcher, and teacher in Energy Sustainability with 13 years of experience. He has taught at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Community College, in the Faculties of Engineering, Environmental Science, and Energy Sustainability Engineering Technology. Wayne is also President of the Community Energy Cooperative of New Brunswick, and has worked as Renewable Energy Coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre in Nova Scotia. He holds a B.Sc. (Hon.) from the University of Calgary, and a Ph.D. from Dalhousie University.