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Passive House helps pay for itself

Antonio Zedda is actively trying to make the Yukon more passive - at least in terms of home design. The Whitehorse based architect is organizing a Passive House certification course for this January.

Antonio Zedda is actively trying to make the Yukon more passive - at least in terms of home design.

The Whitehorse based architect is organizing a Passive House certification course for this January.

“It’s really elegantly simple,” he said. “And it’s something that most people can understand.”

A Passive House is basically a super-insulated home.

But it also takes into account the natural features of a building site maximizing the sunlight and shade for optimum heating and cooling.

To do this it uses sophisticated computer modeling.

The results are tremendous energy savings.

Passive Houses use only a fraction of the energy of a traditional home.

Some use as little as 10 per cent.

Passive House was developed more than 20 years ago in Germany.

It has fairly simple criteria, that are easily measured.

To be certified as a Passive House it can’t take more than 15 kilowatt hours of energy per square metre, per year, to heat the building and it must not leak more air than 0.6 times the house volume per hour.

In layman’s terms, the house is well insulated.

In temperate climates that can mean traditional furnaces can be done away with.

“That’s not necessarily the case in the Yukon where we have some of the extremes of the extremes,” said Zedda. “But, if the house is insulated well enough, you can reduce your heating system considerably in size, so you might not need a furnace but a wood stove and an electric back-up.”

While Passive Houses are popular in Europe, there are very few in North America and none in the Yukon.

But Andy Lera is working on one.

Lera is the Yukon’s only certified Passive House consultant in the territory.

“I’m the only one North of 60,” he said.

The 1,800-square-foot house that Lera is building is projected to take only half a cord of wood to heat.

He hopes to have it built by next winter.

“It’s a very big challenge in the Yukon because of the lack of sunlight in the winter so you really have to have a good site,” he said. “You need good southern exposure, minimize all of your east, west and north windows.

The types of windows and building materials are also very important, he added.

Zedda hopes by bringing the certification course to the Yukon they’ll be able to demonstrate how it can be done here.

“Part of my curiosity is to see how that plays out in the Yukon,” he said. “Even if it only uses 20 per cent that’s still a significant reduction in energy.

“Imagine what would happen if that was a more broadly accepted benchmark here. The savings environmentally and financially would be vast.”

While the northern climate may make things a little more challenging, the Yukon culture meshes well with the Passive House philosophy, said Zedda.

“There’s a certain comfort in thinking, ‘I can build a home and heat it 90 per cent of the time with a small wood stove, with biomass coming from the Yukon,’” he said.

“That thought of being able to be that self sufficient is attractive.

“In the North, you never know what can happen and being self reliant is part of what makes this place attractive, and it attracts those kinds of people.”

With the Yukon’s economy growing and the demand for housing increasing, energy efficiency should be a bigger consideration, said Lera.

“It we put the thousand of new homes in here what’s the effect going to be for everybody?” he said. “It’s not just going to be the people who live there, it’s everyone in the Yukon, we’re all going to be paying for the increased energy.

“Electricity and oil are not getting any cheaper.”

Ideally he would like to see some level of government subsidizing some of the costs.

However implementing higher building standards is not something that is easy to do, admitted Lera.

Zedda agrees.

“Common sense tells you it’s probably a no-brainer to do all of this,” he said. The city has to be given credit because they set a benchmark last year and I think they plan on increasing it.

“You have to be careful with how fast you do it because there’s a certain segment of the population that’s completely onboard that understands they’ve got to build better, more efficient buildings because our energy costs are out of our control.

“And then there’s others that see it as a burden for increased capital costs.”

Building to a Passive House standard doesn’t cost that much more.

It only adds five to 10 per cent to the building costs, said Zedda.

“If you look at the longer picture, that incremental capital cost increase is paid back over a relatively short period of time,” he said.

The certification course is still a long way off, but Zedda has already seen an encouraging amount of interest.

“I’m more worried about having too many people interested,” he said.

If more people get certified that will mean that Lera will lose his monopoly, but he’s not concerned.

“I’m not worried about the competition at all because I just believe so strongly that it needs to be done,” he said. “I think the more people that are doing it, the more common it becomes, the better.”

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