Passive kit home made with quality materials

ERV Post Follow Up

Earlier this spring we posted an article on Pre-certified Passive Components: ERV or energy recovery ventilators. The “fresh air machine” of passive homes, including those built by EkoBuilt, ERVs are a vital component and worthy of close inspection. The unit we recommend is the Jablotron Futura Passive ERV and it’s pre-certified by the IPHA.

We fielded a couple of great questions following that post and want to answer them here:

If the ERV is frost-protected down to -20, what happens in areas where the temperature can go down to -30 or -35?

Anytime there are frost conditions, the machines will enter a re-circulation mode to “warm up” the core as required. There will still be incoming fresh air, just less depending on the machine’s efficiency level in extreme cold.

Have you looked at the Panasonic Intellibalance ERV for cold climates? Model FV-10VEC2.

We actually hadn’t installed one of these units before, but at the time this question came in on Facebook we found ourselves on a job where this is what the owner wanted to install, mainly because of cost. They are good units because they are frost protected in the same way that the passive units that we recommend are, however, they consume almost double the electricity and aren’t as efficient. Below we include a side by side comparison at a glance.

Jablotron Future Passive ERV

Power consumption: 0.44 watts/cfm = 444 watts @ 100 cfm

Efficiency rating: 90% at -10°C

Panasonic Intellibalance ERV

Power consumption: 81 watts @ 100 cfm

Efficiency rating: 75% at 0°C

We love the dialogue with home owners, please keep the questions coming!

Canada Greener Homes Grant

The federal government recently launched its Canada Greener Homes Grant. In brief, the grant provides various incentive options for existing homes to upgrade their energy efficiency, however no grants are available for new homes, even though housing starts in many parts of the country continue to grow (in our own local area, new builds are huge in a hot real estate market). In this article, we ask why the government won’t also support homeowners in building highly energy efficient homes right out of the gate.

Home Energy Facts

According to the Canadian government:

  • Buildings produce 17% of Canada’s greenhouse gases, including emissions from generating electricity that buildings use. A large part of this is from using fossil fuels to heat and cool our buildings.
  • 40% of emissions from electricity generation is for energy used in our buildings.
  • The federal government will support improving the energy efficiency of our homes and buildings.

Sourced from Sustainable and efficient homes and buildings, Government of Canada

Passive House vs. Code Built

A passive house has 3 times the insulation and 4 times the air-tightness of a home built to current code.

Passive walls = R 75Code walls = R 27
Passive roof = R 110Code Roof = R 32
Passive air tightness = 0.6 ach*Code air tightness = 2.5 ach*
*ACH = air changes per hour

With the above info in mind, Passive homes are known to save 80-90% energy per house.

Energy Efficiency at What Cost?

Building to the passive standard does cost 5 to 10% more per build, and this is our point in a nutshell. If incentives were available for newly built energy-efficient passive homes, then more people would be building them, a direct benefit in reaching Canada’s climate change goals. It seems unfair and really a touch irresponsible that only retrofitting of existing homes is being supported when so many people are in the position of having to choose a new build.

For example, take a young family who could afford to build passive with the help of modest incentives, but without incentives has no choice but to build a home that only meets the current code. They are, in essence, being forced to build a home that is guaranteed to require energy retrofitting instead of a home that will never have to be retrofitted.

This scenario is bad for climate change, bad for meeting our emission reduction targets, and simply bad policy. Shouldn’t we have equivalent incentives available to all home buyers?

Canada’s federal government offers point-of-sale incentives of $2,500 to $5,000 for consumers who buy or lease an electric vehicle — why doesn’t the same thinking apply to new home builds when we live in communities bristling with the construction of new homes?

More money in your pocket

There is another reason why building passive matters so much for home owners, and it’s one we find can get a bit lost in the noise and excitement of building. Passive homes are much cheaper to run. Using so much less energy means that energy bills are correspondingly less. From the young family just starting out to the retired couple downsizing, who wouldn’t welcome smaller monthly bills for running a comfortable and healthy home?

A carbon free future

We are hoping to continue this discussion because without new-build home incentives for the most energy efficient homes possible, how will we really start moving towards a carbon free future?

Passive kit home made with quality materials

Prefab house vs. passive house kit

One question we often field is whether our passive house kit is the same as a prefab house. It’s not. It’s something much better, in our view, and here’s why:

Unlike a prefabricated house, which comes straight from the factory ready for final assembly on your property or site, our material kits provide quality materials installed in the correct steps and the option to be as involved as you like in the build. These are quite significant differences.

The Hummingbird
See all of our energy efficient house plans

Our weathertight material kit can be shipped across North America, and can be assembled by any experienced carpenter. It’s down to you and the details of your project to decide on foundation and finishes.

We’ll state our bias upfront: we think that our passive house kits win hands down over prefab assemblies, particularly for our northern climate where weathertight wall assemblies matter a great deal.

Prefab Homes: The Cons

  1. Transport – large prefab walls require multiple large trucks, adding cost to the project’s bottom line.
  2. Site access – large trucks often have trouble accessing building sites, requiring additional vehicles and steps at increased cost.
  3. Build integrity – insulation in prefab walls demand just the right weather conditions during transport and assembly.
  4. Assembly & foundation issues – prefab buildings need cranes for assembly, which are costly. This cost is often driven up by site / foundation irregularities affecting installation.
  5. Hidden costs – fully prefabricated homes are marketed as being cheap and quick, but as the points above illustrate, at what additional cost?
  6. Air leakage – prefab systems come with just one chance to seal the building with exterior tape, compared to the stringent triple-protection of a passive house build (vapor barrier, air barrier, and water barrier).
  7. Mechanical penetrations – there are a number of items required to pass through walls, such as plumbing vent pipe, exterior light and outlet wiring, HRV supply and exhaust lines, heat pump lines, etc. Prefab walls containing insulation will compromise thermal break at all of these points, making the building envelope far inferior.

Passive House Kits: The Benefits

  1. Flexible, local – our kits allow you to be as involved as you like, as well as to involve local builders and tradespeople.
  2. Transport – we partner with national carriers and distributors, allowing us to minimize delivery and travel distances regardless of property location.
  3. Site access, build versatility – our weathertight material kit is provided unassembled, simplifying delivery options and providing flexibility for adapting to building site conditions.
  4. Sensible construction – insulation isn’t installed in the roof and walls until the building is proven to be weather-tight; an on-site build just makes more sense.
  5. Quality assurance – the integrity of installed materials is best accomplished when they are installed together. The vapor barrier goes first, followed by the air barrier, and then the water barrier. The only method of quality integration is with a site-built kit, not a pieced-together panelized home.
  6. Customizable – we offer the choice of structural wall assembly: standard wood frame or optional internal timber-frame core.
  7. Insulation – this is the main component designed to keep the building easy to heat and cool, and to remain problem-free. Any super-insulated building needs to have a vapor permeable system in place for the wall to maintain dryness. EkoBuilt wall insulation R75, roof insulation R120.
  8. Wind tight: an EkoBuilt PassiveHouse is guaranteed to be under 0.6ACH (air exchange per hour). Any modern building should be able to perform to this degree of air-tightness.
  9. Timing – pre-assembled kit elements achieve an accelerated build timeframe.

We think you’ll find that the quality and energy efficiency that can be achieved by building on-site far outweighs the apparent convenience of a fully pre-fabricated house. Contact us to find out more.

Related Content

Older home on wooded lot

Retrofitting an older home: taking a staged approach

Many of you have indicated that you’d like to hear from us about retrofitting older homes, and we love that idea too. We know not everyone is in the market for a brand new home!

There are a lot of good reasons to address the comfort and energy efficiency of an older home, particularly if you live in a neighbourhood that you love and don’t wish to leave. Staying in place and fixing what’s not working about your older home could be a really smart decision.

Much of our audience is in the Ottawa area, and a lot of great neighbourhoods full of older homes spring to mind.

So what to do when your home is many decades old, drafty and dependent on steep energy bills to keep it cool in summer and warm in winter?

Read More

Couple viewing potential land for their home

Tips for purchasing land on which to build your home

Hoping to build your own home some day? Does it seem like a dream? It’s best to start planning as far ahead as possible. Here’s why:

The excitement and potential around building your own home are pretty special, but there is a lot of work that needs to go into the process before you ever get there. If any process deserves a long lead time, home building is it.

Considerations around location, availability and zoning of available land, whether to share or become part of a community with others, whether to build in an income component, and the type of structure you would build are just the starting points.

With land availability increasingly scarce in some areas, and energy costs rising, it’s important to get all of these things as right as you can.

1) How do you want to live?

  • Are you building for where you are now, or where you will be in a few years or more? Are you building a family home or for a single/couple? Will you work from home?
  • Do you like the idea of building a home with a community of other like minded folks?
  • Does your household have special needs?
  • With rising costs for home ownership, does it make sense to build in an income/rental component?

2) Where do you want to live?

It’s never too soon to start looking at available land and considering your options.

Urban or rural?

In an urban environment you will likely have to take land that’s available or find a property with an existing older home and rebuild. The rebuild may be the preferable option for most in order to be in the neighbourhood of choice and also for the property not to be subject to development costs which can be as high as $25,000-$30,000 in the city of Ottawa. If the property has an existing home on it, regardless of condition or age, the development fee is waived.

In rural areas or smaller towns it is still a good idea to pay attention to development fees. Using Ottawa as an example, the $25,000-$30,000 development fee within city limits could be reduced to as little as $3,500 in the surrounding townships.

Other factors to consider:

Lay of the land. This is important for some because it may dictate the style of foundation. For example, if you want a walkout basement, a sloped piece of land is necessary. On the flip side, if no basement is preferred, then a relatively flat piece of property is required.

Orientation. In order to maximize solar gain, it is important to have access to the sun and this means designing the house to face within 20° of due south. In a town or city, streets that run north to south are preferred instead of east to west for privacy reasons. For example, if a street runs east to west, a house on the north side of the road has its south side facing the street. As living areas would normally be placed on this side of a home, there is a potential loss of privacy particularly if the home needs to be positioned very close to the road.

Water quality. It’s a good idea to research depths of wells if the property is located outside of a municipal area. Deep wells (greater than 250 to 300 feet deep) normally have higher concentrations of minerals which may require a large water treatment system. Well records in the province of Ontario are public information so it’s very easy to see the results.

3) Budget: To build & to live

There is a budget for building, and then there is a budget for living, and as energy prices rise the latter is getting more attention from homeowners.

Ottawa coach house plans by EkoBuilt

EkoBuilt’s Mooneys Pad tiny house plan

EkoBuilt offers pre-existing energy efficient house plans to suit many different lifestyles, including tiny/coach house options. Many of our clients like to start with one of our plans, and then customize to best meet their personal needs and preferences, but we can also start from scratch. Working with pre-existing plans provides great benefit in terms of proven models of energy efficiency, layout convenience, and – of course – budget.

EkoBuilt also offers a key array of house performance models for your home, including Code Plus (a home built to the Code standards projected for 2030), Passive House (a home that is 90% better than Code), and even Net Zero (a home which produces as much energy as it uses).

The best investment you can make is in the most energy efficient home that you can afford to build, as you will get the best return on that same investment. Imagine simply not having to worry about steeply climbing energy bills.

4) How will you build?

Finding a builder who understands what you want to achieve and can work with you to do so, is critical. At EkoBuilt, we welcome clients who want to save on the build cost by doing some or all of their own work, when circumstances allow. We also work with clients who need us to do everything from start to finish.

The earlier in the process that we can have a conversation, the more we can help you consider the best and most cost effective ways of achieving your dream. Make time to sit down with us today, even if you can’t foresee being in a position to build for two or three years.

We look forward to hearing from you!


Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Energy efficient home under construction near Kazabazua

New house build in Kazabazua

A modified version of EkoBuilt’s Primrose house plan is currently being built on Danford Lake near Kazabazua, about an hour north of Ottawa. This is a great illustration of the process that we find works the best with the great majority of homeowners: take on one of our 13 house plans and then modify or customize to best suit your needs.

This homeowner is working with us for the design and construction process, and will implement finishes themselves – another great example of the myriad of ways it’s possible to realize the build and finishing of a new home.

When to Include a Basement

We often get asked the question, can we have a basement? This project is a good example of when you can.

The inclusion of a basement in house design comes down to the property and its slope. Some properties will easily support a basement, as with this project, which is situated on natural sloped ground leading down to a lake. A walkout basement was cost-effective to include in this case.

Other properties may not easily support a basement and our demonstration home is a good example of this, being on a clay-based soil with a high water table. A basement in this case would be a bad idea so we instead installed a super-insulated slab on grade foundation over top of an elevated gravel pad. Basement design should always be dictated by the ground on which the home will be constructed.

The Primrose

The Primrose bungalow, on which this home in Kazabazua is based, encompasses just under 1,600 square feet of living space, and features 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.

Click to view full size images.  You can also download the Primrose plans.

Kazabazua Home’s Modified Plans

This project takes the Primrose plan as its basis, and introduces changes to best suit the lifestyle of the homeowners. The ground floor grew to 1,955 square feet and features the addition of a sunroom. The sloping ground on which the home is being built also supports the inclusion of a walkout basement, and the storage/mechanical room is situated on this lower level.

Click to view full size images.

Construction Gallery