From the street, you wouldn’t be able to tell a net-zero or passive house from any other recently built home. Even from the inside, the only visible clues are thick walls and deep windowsills. Only if you looked at the utilities bill would you know.
“Net-Zero” and “Passive House” are certification labels for ultra-low energy buildings that use very little energy to heat and cool them.
Although the origins of the passive house date back to the 1970s, its popularity only began to spread in the past decade or so. It is now the world’s most energy-efficient building standard. Globally, passive house construction has exceeded 30,000 and is increasing as people seek cost benefits, ways to protect the climate and contribute to a healthy living environment.
As Canada and other countries around the world look for ways to decrease their dependence on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions to tackle climate change, the housing and construction industry has been identified as one area that can have an almost immediate impact.
Buildings account for 13 per cent of energy use in Canada. In a typical house that’s been constructed according to the building code, roughly 60 to 70 per cent of the energy use goes towards heating and cooling.
There really hasn’t been a significant shift in the way houses are built since the 1960s. But technological advances and new materials now allow for high-performance houses to be built with lower carbon emissions through the use of fibre-reinforced concrete, prefabrication, smart-glass and recycled and sustainable materials such as cork flooring and wool insulation.
A passive house can cut energy use by 90 per cent. Its thickly insulated walls, air-tight construction, high-efficiency mechanical systems, compact building shape and orientation capture the heat of the sun when it’s most needed. They are easier to operate, maintain temperatures more efficiently and save up to 90 per cent in heating and cooling energy costs, mostly through the use of an energy recovery ventilator to exchange the interior air with fresh outside air.