To certify or not to certify?

We know certification is an essential component of passive house and we fully understand why. 

We are passionate about passive house (PH), and what it means for a healthy, comfortable, high performing and energy efficient home; however, sadly, our house won’t achieve passive house certification. 

Why aren’t we going to be certified? 

A lot of it is to do with budget. 

In an ideal world we would have designed for passive house from the beginning; which we could have done, but to be honest, in our particular situation we probably couldn’t have afforded to do so. 

We feel so fortunate to have found our postage stamp in the area where our life is based and we’d already paid (within the eye watering land purchase price) for a clever and beautiful house design that we loved with a complying development certificate. It was approved and ready to build; we just needed a builder! Not only would designing from scratch cost more money, it would have cost us more time; and as we all know, time is money. 

We recognised from the beginning it was an imperfect process, but we worked hard to find a way to build the approved design with passive house principles. 

The first report we received from the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP)  looked like it might be feasible, so we went ahead with planning for PH.  It looked like we could aim for at least a High Performance Building (according to PH standards). We were happy with this and hoped we could achieve it. 

Of the five pillars of PH, it seems that we might be seriously let down by the glazing used in the corner window at the front of our house. It’s a snazzy window and a great architectural feature. However at the time of ordering the windows we weren’t able to get a corner window that met the design criteria with double glazing, so we ended up with single glazed panels making up the apex.  We actually didn’t realise this until they were installed. Quotes for windows can be hard to understand when you are not sourcing windows day in-day-out! Had we known, we may have made a different decision. 

Possibly the air-tightness of our bi-fold doors would have let us down too? Don’t get me wrong, we know we have good air tightness compared to a house built to code, but we don’t have confirmation if we have the 0.6 required for PH. The initial blower door test measured 1.12 ACH. We ran out of money to do the final blower door test, such is the way the budget went. 

We would have been happy to get to the 1.0 required for High Performance Building. On the day of the initial test it seems the bifolds were leaking. The bifolds really make our house feel wonderful. When open they create a great indoor to outdoor flow; so we won’t be giving them up. In my mind the ambiance and amenity they create is also an important feature of a healthy home. 

Now that the house is finished and the doors adjusted we may well be at 1.0 ACH, but until we get it tested we don’t know.

There’s more at play 

There is more at play in building PH than just the five pillars.  In addition to the principles that we’ve tried to incorporate, passive house certification relies on a lot of paperwork and documentation.  Although the owner of the building company knew of, and had experience with PH, the onsite team were learning about it on the go. 

Maybe having a Passive House Project Manager would have helped? We can’t even afford to pay a painter, so we couldn’t consider that. I would have loved to have done it, but we were flat out working during a pandemic, managing two households, juggling kids, researching things we needed and working every weekend on the house (tips runs, getting and moving timber, PC items etc ). 

Shout out to our builder!

On an important side note, we were fortunate to have a young highly skilled builder onsite everyday who has almost single handedly built our house. We hope he is proud of what he has achieved. He should be! Our house looks great!

He is at an early stage in his career and learnt fast on the fly about new materials, processes and passive house. We hope working on our house will inspire him and the other guys onsite to learn more about PH and energy efficient homes. That would be a win for us and the future. 

Sacrifices we made to incorporate passive house principles. 

I’ve detailed what we did to incorporate the five pillars in previous posts, some of these came various kinds of prices.

  • The fantastic insulation we chose was pricey! It is a great product, and we love it, but this affected the rest of the budget and led to lost sleep and us learning to paint and landscape. 
  • Lower ceiling height to accommodate HRV ducting. We’re all tall – we notice this. 
  • HRV poverty pack – we haven’t got an app to turn it on and off and need to go downstairs and flick the manual switch to adjust airflow. 

Balancing act 

Although we won’t be certified, our aim was always to build a high performance energy efficient building and create a healthy home.  It’s been a balancing act for us between love of PH and understanding why documentation and certification is important; then the cold hard reality of our time and budget constraints. 

We’ve both lived our lives advocating for protection of the natural environment, and trying to walk the talk by changing how we do things to lessen our impact on the plant. I think that our house will still do that, even without certification, and we’ve done what we can with what we had. We’re already thinking of our own ways to measure our house’s performance and have extensive documentation of our own in terms of what we’ve done and learnt along the way. At the end of the day it’s still super energy efficient! And we’re happy in our new home and can’t wait to fully experience it. 

Winter is coming. Will we wish we had heating?

2 thoughts on “To certify or not to certify?

  1. Hi, I’ve loved reading your blog, its had a heap of info I can’t find anywhere else about building a passive house in Aus. Have you got any updates since April? How have you found the winter so far?

    Like

    1. Hi Ash – Gosh, I”m sorry for my slow reply! Where does the time go? Things have been hectic, but I do plan on some more updates soon. So far winter has been lovely and quite comfortable upstairs. Downstairs not so great. It’s been a bit cold down there and we probably should have insulated the concrete slab. I’ll be doing a post about that soon. We’ve put the heater on a few time to take the edge off, but haven’t needed it everyday, it also hasn’t been a very cold winter though. Although I think anyone in a drafty house might be feeling it more than us.

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