One Homeowner’s Experience
Passive House Canada’s Sacha Sauvé talks with Carolyn Gisborne, who lives in a Passive House building on Vancouver Island.
SS: How did you first hear about Passive House?
CG: I first heard of Passive House when I was working as housing policy analyst in Victoria on British Columbia’s building code. I understood Passive House as a high level of building certification that BC was trying to attain, and that it was a gold standard in building.
While working on building-code policy I was invited with other government officials to tour a building site for a Passive House condo that was under development, which at the time was the first multi-unit residential building in Canada being built to the Passive House standard.
SS: How did you decide to live in a Passive House?
CG: During the tour I had the opportunity to see and hear about the materials used, the process of building, and how the challenges of building to the Passive House standard differed from building to the current code. I came away from that tour wanting to live in a Passive House. I was awestruck by what I had learned, and the exterior walls of the building hadn’t even been framed yet!
My husband and I purchased one of the condos of the project I toured. We hadn’t thought seriously of buying a home until we came across Passive House. This was more than buying a home, it was buying into a philosophy and practicality.
SS: What was it about Passive House that caught your attention?
CG: What stood out the most was the simplicity of the building—that Passive House uses a combination of ancient ideas, like orientation, simple design, roof pitch, and solar heat gains in winter. I loved that the standard married fundamental principles with new technology. I look at life from a perspective of efficiency, and this building maximizes efficiency. Passive House is everything it needs to be and nothing more. As a minimalist, that really spoke to me.
SS:What are the some of the benefits to living in a Passive House? When you moved in, did you immediately notice any difference from living in a house built to code?
CG: Once moved in, we immediately noticed how quiet it was. It was like living in a sound studio. The air felt clean, and there were no weird smells. If you cooked a meal with strong smells or burnt the food, the smell was quickly gone. The air changed over so quickly that our clothes dried on a rack in a couple of hours (which is difficult in a humid climate like Vancouver Island). During the summer wildfires, the condo was free of smoke smell; we never got sick in the winter; and we felt so good about raising our daughter in our home knowing the air was as clean as it could be.
Our energy bills dropped in the orders of magnitude. Our average energy bill for a two-bedroom condo with high ceilings is $30 a month. Solar panels on the roof were a huge benefit, because energy generated was resold to BC hydro and kept strata fees [fees covering ongoing maintenance, insurance, and energy use] low—$186 a month for a new build (six-plex).
But the biggest benefit of living in a Passive House was that we never had to think of the indoor temperature. If we wanted to heat our home, we would bake a loaf of bread and have a shower and the place would be warm for the night. The coldest our place ever got was 16°C after being away four days in the month of December. We turned a little space heater on, and within a couple of hours the condo was warm again. (Other than heated bathroom floor tiles, our home needs no heating system, thanks to its Passive House envelope.)
In the last three years of living in our Passive House condo, the only maintenance we had to do was change roughly $20 of air filters. We never had to worry about a furnace or air conditioner breaking, and we knew that in the event of something catastrophic (like an earthquake) we could live in the condo comfortably.
SS: If you could share any last thoughts about Passive House and the future of Passive House buildings with our readers, what would they be?
CG: I have never lived in a place I love so much. Living in a Passive House building has provided so many benefits for our family. Our home is ultra quiet, the air never feels stuffy or drafty, and our heating bills are incredibly low. As a homeowner, living here also provides peace of mind with no furnace or air conditioner to worry about or maintain. Our strata fees are also low, thanks to the solar panels that generate income for the strata. I feel that this is the future of building in Canada, and that everyone should be able to enjoy the benefits of a Passive House home.