Older home on wooded lot
Energy Efficiency, Passive House facts, Passive House resources, Retrofitting Older Homes

Retrofitting an older home to Passive House standard

Next stop in our new series on retrofitting older homes: changes to attain Passive House standard. We have received many requests from readers on how to transform an existing home into a passive home.

Everyone who follows this blog is aware that our mission is to build passive whenever we can. Building to PassiveHouse standard makes the home environment healthy, therefore translating into healthy living. It also makes the world a much healthier place as our dependency on petroleum-based fuels as heating and cooling sources is removed. Finally, a passive house is much cheaper to run. You can think of a passive house as the domestic equivalent of an electric vehicle.

IPHA guidelines

EkoBuilt follows the guidelines from the International Passive House Association. There is a lot of building science behind passive, so it can get very complicated, but it can also be explained and understood very simply. From a build perspective, the world is slowly transforming to become completely passive. Certain areas of British Columbia already mandate the passive standard in order to qualify for a new building permit. It’s important for everyone to understand as it will be here in Ontario sooner than we think.

Passive House Explained in 90 Seconds from Hans-Jörn Eich on Vimeo.

The video was made by Hans-Jörn Eich, a certified Passive House Consultant (Passivhaus Institute in Darmstadt, Germany) and the founder of Pinwheel.

Why does passive house exist?

It’s simple: to replace heating and cooling dependency on gas with electricity. That said, this is only economical if the heating/cooling demand can be reduced to a point where it’s inexpensive to use electricity, and this is where design essentials come into play.

There are three essential design features in a passive home:

1. Air-tightness

It’s vitally important that heat loss is minimized through unwanted and unnecessary leakage of air. We conduct what’s called a blower door test to find the ACH (air changes per hour) a home experiences.

Most newly built homes experience ACH anywhere between 3 and 5, meaning 3 to 5 times the entire volume of air inside the home escapes each hour. This is basically a loss of heated and cooled air which can also result in condensation in the wall cavities, translating ultimately to unhealthy mold.

For newly built passive homes, the ACH rate is 0.6 and the retrofit standard is 1.0.

Old school thinking favoured this air loss, thinking it good for fresh air to enter the building and provide a natural fresh air environment. We now know this is laughable because of all the mold problems we’ve heard about with older homes. To be fair to the old schoolers, in the past, modern building techniques/methods did not exist, nor did heat recovery ventilators (HRVs), so the options didn’t exist to change this approach.

Modern building code recognizes this fundamental change. For example, since 2017 Ontario building code has made HRVs mandatory in all homes, which we were thrilled to see happen. The problem is the HRV is only required to be 50% efficient and most homes are still leaking more air than they should.

2. Thermal envelope

Currently new-build homes, according to the standard building code, are required to have R22 wall insulation, R32 roof insulation and R10 below slab insulation. By comparison, in our local area, newly built passive homes require R75 wall insulation, R110 roof insulation and R40 below slab insulation.

As a general rule of thumb, homes retrofitted to passive standard require R48 wall, roof and below slab (or floor) insulation.

3. Proper windows

For thermal comfort, it’s very important that a passive approved window is used. These are triple glazed units with insulated frames equivalent to an R12. This may not seem like much, but compared to a non-certified triple glazed window, it’s huge. With non-certified units, it’s hard to find a unit above an R4 rating.

Certified windows optimize comfort by having a high temperature interior pane (instead of being cold on the inside when it is cold on the outside). In the passive scenario, this means when it is 25°C outside, the interior pane must be at least 17°C. Non-certified triple glazed windows can be as low as 12°C on the inside under the same conditions.

For those who would like the complete building science, please have a look at the following 20-page document, Criteria for the Passive House, EnerPHit and PHI Low Energy Building Standard (pdf). You can also view four charts at the end of this article.

How can an older home become Passive?

With all of that out of the way, how does an existing home reach the Passive standard?

To be achieved in the most cost-effective manner, this approach will obviously vary depending on the home in question, but some general rules apply:

For the walls: Airtight/vapor tight permeable layers and extra insulation will need to be installed. This will mean that either the interior or exterior finish will need to be removed (the choice will usually depend on which is most cost-effective). Certified windows and doors will also be sourced.

For the roof: If the home has an attic space (most do), extra insulation will be added to that space with an airtight/vapor tight permeable membrane installed on the ceiling side. If there is no attic, then an extra thermal later will have to be installed on the interior. If the ceiling is cathedral in design, it should be simple to build the ceiling down to the required R value. If the ceiling is flat and losing height is an issue, than a vacuum panel will be used to provide a thermal barrier with minimal loss in ceiling height.

For the slab/floor:  If a basement is unavailable/unusable, then a thermal layer will be added to the existing floor cavity. If a basement is present and usable, a vacuum panel will be used to provide the thermal barrier with minimal loss in height.

Interested in making your existing/older home Passive? Give us a shout, we’d love to help you realize that goal.

You may also be interested in our blog post on taking a staged approach to retrofitting your older home.

What is a smart home anyway?
Energy Efficiency, Home Building trends, Passive House facts, Simply Sustainable

Measuring how smart a home really is

When we talk about ‘smart homes’, there is a general bias towards technology. Consider this definition:

Standard smart home definition: noun “a home equipped with lighting, heating, and electronic devices that can be controlled remotely by phone or computer.”

At EkoBuilt, we see the smartness in homes very differently, using a sustainability lens.

EkoBuilt smart home definition: noun “a home designed to be autonomous without the use of electronic devices for heating or ventilation control.”

We also think the smartest homes can be affordably net-zero, taking their energy from renewable energy sources. Truly there is much confusion over what a smart home really is. Conventional thinking holds that a ‘smart home’ is one that uses more technology for control. But is that really very smart?

Shouldn’t a truly smart home need less technology?

We feel that a smart home is one that uses the least technology possible. It’s possible to design homes that don’t require all kinds of devices for control.

For example, a home should not need to be heated when the occupants are not there, and blinds should not be required because unwanted heat needs to be kept out. In a true passive house excess technology is not required because the space requires little heating or air-conditioning to be comfortable.

Using energy from the sun as a heat source, the home can be heated naturally even in extremely cold conditions. To reduce the need for air conditioning in hot summers, windows are strategically located to naturally shade themselves so unwanted heat is not coming into the home. This is a smart home!

It is more sustainable, and much smarter to use less technology, both environmentally and physically. There is simply no need to have a wi-fi thermostat. Why spend money to operate a furnace in an occupied or unoccupied home when you don’t have to? It is smart to spend as little money and to acquire as few devices for your home as possible.

Why passive homes are the smartest homes

Our point is of course, to communicate the intelligence of building to the passive house standard. It is, after all, the only truly resilient home known to man.

It is a home that uses so little fuel to heat and cool the space that the electric bills are approximately the same amount every month of the year, whether the home is being heated or not.

Not to be coy, every house, even a passive house, requires a heating system – especially in this part of Canada – but the passive house leaks so little heat (even during extreme cold conditions) that it costs very little to keep the space heated. Less energy, in fact, than a refrigerator uses in a year. Now, that’s a smart home.

Ever compared your home to a thermos?

Thermos passive house analogyA passive house is as close as you can get to living in a thermos! The key difference is the passive space has constant access to fresh air, while a thermos does not.

Seriously though – a good thermos can keep keep tea extremely hot for 24 hours, which is really quite unbelievable when you think about it. Well, a passive house is basically the same thing in a home. And that really is a smart home.

From a health perspective, it’s much safer to live in an environment virtually free of interior toxins or exterior pollution (propane or gas emissions), full of ample fresh air, and designed to last generations. Again, that’s a smart home.

Another vital feature of a truly smart home is that it be electrically operated. We’ve come to the point where a home designed to operate by propane and/or gas, is a home designed for the past. Fossil fuels are not the way forward. Homes for today and tomorrow need to be 100% electrically operated — it’s simply the only fuel source for sustainability. It’s also the best for our health and for our pocketbooks.

A home that helps to create a healthier environment is a home that is healthier for us, and energy savings translate into lower operating costs, and that means more money in our pockets.

In conclusion, a truly smart home designed for today should be one that is built to passive house standards. Realistically, every home in the near future will be required to be built this way, but why wait when you can start now!

Contact us if you’d like to learn more about building your passive home.

EkoModel News, Energy Efficiency, Passive House resources

Passive House Days 2018 and another Eco-Feu giveaway!

With International Passive House Days 2018 on the horizon, we’re getting excited about connecting with Ottawa area residents who want to know more about EkoBuilt’s passive house and sustainable home building options. Sadly, a tornado blighted the lives of some local residents on the same weekend as Green Energy Doors Open and we just didn’t get the turnout that we normally would.

There is another chance to chat with us in the EkoModel Home, from November 9-11, 2018. We hope you’ll come out with your questions and to experience the comfort of this super energy efficient home, a great example of what we can do.

You could win!

Cartier table top fire featureAnyone visiting us that weekend will have the chance to join our mailing list and go into the draw for a Cartier tabletop fire feature from Eco-Feu of Montreal!

Already on the mailing list? You can still enter the draw by sharing with us what topics you’d like to see us delve into on the EkoBuilt blog and on social media.

The Cartier unit when paired with a 4 gallons of fuel retails for $308.80.

We will also have a complete Eco-Feu catalogue on hand so that you can see the other ethanol fire place/feature options.

We’re delighted to continue our focus on this giveaway; it really helps with communicating the ease of heating a Passive House.

Please let us know if you’re planning to visit on the Nov 9-11 weekend, we’d love to see you!

 

Tiny Tulip coach house plan
Coach / Tiny Homes, Energy Efficiency, Home Building trends

Coach Homes of Ottawa: Your Questions Answered

After a month of intense activity at some great shows where we met a lot of great folks, it’s time to get back to the topics that you’ve asked to hear more about. Chief among those is coach homes and tiny homes, and there is definitely an intersection between our energy efficient coach house plans and anyone interested in living small.

Many of you have already familiarized yourselves with the essentials of our coach house offering, so in this post we’re enhancing that information for those of you who are clearly entertaining the notion of building to this scale. Here are the questions we get most frequently:

Are the plans customizable?

Ottawa coach house plans by EkoBuilt

EkoBuilt’s Mooneys Pad tiny house plan

Indeed they are! While we currently offer 8 coach house plans, we can modify any of them or create new plans from scratch.

We are a complete design/build firm and love the challenge of finding the best design for each client’s particular needs and preferences.

What can I build on my property?

This is definitely a question for a City of Ottawa development officer, reachable at 613-580-2424. A call to the City will help to clarify any specific limitations or considerations for your property. We can also help with interpreting the information you receive from the City, as we deal with this regularly.

How do your costs compare?

EkoBuilt’s costs appear to be approximately 10 – 12% higher than some of our competition, which results in an additional $20,000 on average by project. But consider this:

Building codes are becoming stricter every year and adopting the most energy efficient build that you can afford now is well worth it. It’s wise to protect your coach house investment by building to the passive house standard in order to keep pace with changing codes (in fact, you’ll stay ahead of codes and recoup your costs and more over time).

EkoBuilt is quite unique in its approach and can work with you to build to the standard that best fits your current budget while protecting your investment for the long run.

Definitely read our post What it costs to build a coach house.

Do we need solar panels?

Solar panels can be used for additional economic benefit, offsetting Hydro bills, but they are not required. In our design and construction we are mainly focused on saving money through a focus on super energy efficiency.

For those interested in solar panels, one of the greatest benefits of our coach homes is they are easily net zero (able to produce as much energy as they use) which results in a complete offset of your utility bills. An approximate $10,000 investment in solar panels is a good baseline.

Ottawa Coach House Essentials

Make sure you review everything in our Coach House section, and please reach out to us if you’re thinking about:

  • simply living small
  • a home office or home studio
  • a secondary dwelling
  • an in-law suite
  • a rental unit / Air B&B

We can help you to consider all of the angles and to come up with the smartest plan for you.

Energy & Household Trends, Energy Efficiency, Simply Sustainable, Solar Power

Our experience at Toronto’s Green Living Show 2018

We were delighted to take part in the Toronto Green Living Show this year. It was a great event that really felt like a 21st-century show!

There were electric cars from a number of different companies, lithium ion power walls, vertical gardens for your living room, vertical farming out of a container, and geodesic domes where you can grow produce year round even in our climate.

We loved being part of the showcase of green living options and really enjoyed talking about about our electrically operated homes, which are designed to cost just pennies a day to operate.

Cartier table top fire featureCongratulations to the winner of our Eco-Feu raffle at the show, Stephanie Hahn of New Hamburg, Ontario.

Stephanie won a Cartier tabletop unit from Eco-Feu. These ethanol units make perfect centerpieces and/or accent lighting. Burning for 2 to 3 hours, they feature a soothing, vibrant, real flame.

The future is now and we need to embrace it! Photos below from the event.

Check out this video about the Green Living Show from The Tesla Model 3 owners club.

 

Photo Gallery

Whole home ventilation explained
Energy & Household Trends, Energy Efficiency, Home Building trends

Whole home ventilation: ERV and HRV explained

We recently came across a great, highly informative article on whole home ventilation for anyone looking at building a new home. Six Steps to Success With Heat-Recovery Ventilation by Bruce Sullivan was first published on the Green Building Advisor blog.

The article explains the difference between HRV/ERV and the necessity for highly efficient fresh air machines. At EkoBuilt, we prefer ERV (energy recovery ventilators) over HRV (heat recovery ventilators) because modern buildings should not only be airtight but also vapour tight.

It is extremely important for long term building health to make sure there is no condensation within a wall cavity. An ERV in a vapour tight house is able to maintain comfortable humidity inside the building while removing excess moisture (anything above 60% humidity). These machines also offer a constant fresh air supply for a healthy interior environment.

You can read the full article on the Green Building Advisor blog.

Related Content

You might also like HRV Units and the Passive House (2016, EkoBuilt blog)

 

 

Ottawa coch house costs
Coach / Tiny Homes, Energy Efficiency, Home Building trends

What it costs to build a coach house

Please note: as of March 2019 base pricing for coach house plans and basic shell installation have increased. The cost scenarios here will be affected in terms of total pricing as a result.

We have been receiving a tremendous amount of interest in our Coach House offering for the 2018 build season. We thought it would be appropriate to talk about future possibilities for everyone we haven’t heard from yet.

The new coach house regulations in Ottawa create a great opportunity for additional income in the form of a rental property and potentially even more income from an Airbnb format. It can also make for an economical in-law suite or starter home for a son or daughter.

Unlike most builders out in the marketplace, EkoBuilt is focused on building a style of home that is future-proof, something that will actually appreciate over time. Most builders design to today’s building code, and the real problem with this approach is that codes are starting to change dramatically.

This means that a home built to code standard today will be sub-standard come the next code change just four years from now.

Current building code is solid from a safety perspective, but the energy efficiency of most homes built to this code has not kept pace with drastically rising utility costs.

It doesn’t cost much extra to build ahead of code, so why not build to the future code standard? This is our approach and it just makes sense for anything truly designed to be a 21st century home.

To help in showing how possible it is to build to future code, we have prepared a cost analysis documentation for a couple of our designs.

Cost Analysis: Tiny Canuck

Tiny Canuck coach house plan

Tiny Canuck 499 sq.ft.

Size:  1 bedroom, 499 sq.ft.

Finished for $132,375:

  • that’s a $694 mortgage payment
  • rental $1250+ (including utilities), that’s a 56% ROI, beats the stock market.

Download the Tiny Canuck cost analysis


Cost Analysis: Nepean Point

Nepean Point tiny house plan

Nepean Point 720 sq.ft.

Size: 2 bedroom, 720. sq.ft.

Finished for $175,802:

  • that’s a $922 mortgage payment
  • rental $1750+ (including utilities), that’s a 53% ROI

Download the Nepean Point cost analysis

Including utilities would make these units really attractive to anyone in the market. Since the homes are ‘future proof’, they can be heated and cooled inexpensively with electricity (no gas/propane) which will be the fuel of the future.

Alternatively, if a coach house is built to current code standards, your mortgage rates may be slightly less (5%) but with substantially higher utilities, overall cost of living would be more expensive.

Coach House Plans: CodePlus & Passive House

Make sure you visit our Coach House Plans page and review the kit pricing for our coach house plans based on CodePlus and on the Passive House standard. Questions? We’d be happy to answer them!

Please get in touch with us to explore Coach House opportunities for your property!

EkoBuilt News & Happenings, Energy Efficiency, Passive House facts

International Passive House Days 2017

Passive House residents around the world open their doors Nov 10th – 12th, 2017. The EkoModel Home near Ottawa will open its doors after having been lived in for a year, so this is a great time to visit our project and check out others in the area.

Get first hand experience of the many advantages Passive Houses offer, and feel the supreme comfort of these super energy efficient homes.

Find Homes Near You

The EkoModel HomeTo search on participating homes in Ottawa, Eastern Ontario, or wherever you live, use the Passive House Database.

The listing for the EkoModel Home, including its passive house credentials, can be found at listing 5081 on the Passive House Database.

Please come out and visit our four-bedroom, 2,509 sq ft passive house on any of the following days:

Fri, 10 Nov: 9-3pm
Sat, 11 Nov: 9-3pm
Sun, 12 Nov: 9-3pm

See complete house plans for the EkoBuilt Trillium passive house right here.

See all 13 of our Passive House plans here – we can modify any of these plans to best suit your needs!

Child's bedroom in energy efficient home plan
Energy & Household Trends, Energy Efficiency, Home Building trends, House Design

Energy efficient home plans are essential

If you’re planning on building a new home, you’ve got a chance to get it right from day one. Low energy bills, a healthy and supremely comfortable living environment, great design – what’s not to love?

Energy efficient home plans are the key ingredient to an energy efficient home, along with energy efficient materials and building technologies, and – of course – a builder who understands how to make the most of all of these.

Energy efficient home plans from EkoBuiltWhy are they so important?

Home plans that have been developed by an experienced home builder over time will take into account myriad factors, including the best distances for work areas in a kitchen, ideal corridor and flow pathways, orientation of private spaces to public ones, relationships of the indoors to the outdoors, etc. But there is much more to a home than floorplans.

An energy efficient home plan will also take into account things like roof slope and style, overhangs, maximizing window size on south and west facing walls, etc.

Will you know an energy efficient plan when you see it?

Possibly not. Unless you know the right things to look for, you may not be able to pick out the best options. An energy efficient home builder will be able to guide you in selecting from the best plans, can work with you to further customize those base plans to best suit your needs, preferences and budget, and will know the appropriate building materials and systems required to realize the build properly. The right builder will stay abreast of the best home building technologies and approaches for reducing a home’s energy footprint.

Why EkoBuilt?

Child's bedroom in energy efficient home plan

A child’s bedroom in the EkoBuilt model home. Although curtains have been added for light control, they aren’t needed for warmth. The Munster windows are incredibly well sealed and energy efficient.

After years of building custom and energy efficient homes for customers, the EkoBuilt team has years of experience in designing and building homes, and this experience has translated into the 13 energy efficient home plans from our Passive House line, as well as 8 tiny/coach house plans for secondary dwellings/rental properties and tiny home enthusiasts.

The 13 passive house plans that we’ve developed encompass both two-storey and bungalow styles, all boast low-slope roofs with large overhangs, and each one is designed to maximize the placement and size of south and west-facing windows.

These house plans also build on years spent accumulating knowledge of the best kinds of home floorplans to cater to different lifestyles and life phases. Some of our plans will be better suited to individuals, retired couples or those without children, while others are more clearly family/multi-resident homes.

All of the plans include an optional basement with lower-level access, and all can be paired with an energy efficient garage, as required.

Homes designed to take advantage of electricity – the fuel of the future

These homes are easily and cheaply run using an air to air source heat pump which can heat a home for less than $30/month (electricity) during the coldest months of winter. Really!

And, as noted above, we’re always delighted to work with clients to customize one of our plans to best suit their design preferences, budget and needs. We can help you think through how you live and how your home’s design can best support that.

Most importantly, we can help you end up with the most delightfully comfortable and healthy home, that is also the most energy efficient one possible to build currently.

Get in touch

Tell about your dreams and plans; we’ll help you choose the best energy efficient house plan and show you how to make it your reality.

Read more about the EkoModel Home, which demonstrates all of these principles.

EkoBuilt's passive house solar engine
EkoModel News, Energy & Household Trends, Energy Efficiency, Passive House facts

Reflecting on a warm winter in the EkoModel Home

The sub-title for this post really should be “how comfortable is a passive house in winter?” And the answer is: very!

Okay, so the sun has been shining and we’re feeling the summer’s warmth, but cast your mind back to the long, grey winter we had here in the Ottawa Valley. Not for long, just long enough to picture the environment in which the EkoModel passive house spent its first winter.

Although the average temperature for the area was roughly -5.5C from December through March, December and January both saw some supremely cold days: -28C the low in December, -25C the low in January. Throughout the period we kept the house at steady 21C for daytime and evening; overnight, with no heating, the temperature would make a gentle fall to 18 or 19C by morning.

Having lived in homes in the past where keeping the temperature at 21C would have been too costly, this round the clock comfort was the revelation we hoped it would be. Both floors of the home, including the upstairs bedrooms, maintained these temperatures – no ‘cool spots’ as in many older homes.

The Eko Solar Engine - passive house infographic

Click to learn about the EkoBuilt solar engine that heats (and cools) this passive house

All of this was achieved using an average of just 31.75 kWh per day – which may not seem that low, until you remember that this passive house has NO FURNACE. That hydro-electricity usage simply represents the operation of the ‘solar engine’ components (including a fresh air exchanger, and an air-to-air heating and cooling pump) of the house, and daily living (lights, cooking, heating water*, PC and television usage) of a family of five.

So, our total energy bills for the four deep winter months was $801.48 (or $200/month).

*We heat our water to 120C.

An interesting note on Sunny Days

If it was a sunny day and we had approximately six hours of sun or more pouring through the south facing windows, we did not need to use the heating system at all.

The sun had no problem raising the temperature of the house from 19°C in the morning to about 24°C in the afternoon, in which case the temperature would drop to about 22°C in the evening and hover at about 20°C in the morning. Amazing!

 

What we’ll do differently next year

Overall, the house performed as expected, and the very low energy usage (seen here) and bills, even in a cold, grey winter, are great practical evidence. Less easy to share, but no less significant, is the supreme comfort that we enjoyed all winter long.

Hydry usage for the EkoBuilt passive house in winter 2017

Looking ahead to next year, we’re considering installing an ethanol (biofuel) fireplace. These units are a very simple and clean alternative to wood burning fireplaces and woodstoves, and their benefits are amplified in a passive house, where much less heat input is required to warm the home, and a fresh oxygen supply with good airflow is continually available.

There is a great overview of ethanol fireplaces on Houzz, and again we’d underscore the greater benefit to a passive house over a conventional build. In brief, this heating method has a very small environmental footprint, is low maintenance and attractive. We see this heat source as a great alternative when sunshine is severely limited, as it was this past winter in the Ottawa Valley. Any successful system has a built-in backup, and this looks like a great way to round out the solar engine that is driving our passive house.

Questions about the passive house performance?

If you have questions or thoughts about our passive home’s winter performance, please do feel free to comment here or contact us. We’re keen to share this information as clearly as possible in order to help homeowners to understand the huge benefits of building a passive house.