What is a smart home anyway?

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.

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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!


EkoBuilt's passive house solar engine

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.


Southern elevation of Ottawa passive house by EkoBuilt

PassiveHouse and R2000: A comparison

The R2000 building standard has gained profile in recent years as an energy efficient approach to home building. The formalized program, which has seen thousands of building professionals trained and many R2000 homes constructed, resulted in a great deal of awareness across Canada.

At EkoBuilt, we believe that the PassiveHouse model is the superior choice for the 21st Century Home, and it matters to us that our customers understand how different the R2000 and PassiveHouse concepts are.

We’ve prepared a new page on our website comparing R2000 and PassiveHouse and invite you to read it if you’re considering a home building project or are wondering about the future for building codes and the energy efficiency of different home building methods. What better way to head into the future?

PassiveHouse Compared to R2000, by EkoBuilt