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A different take on construction

Centreline Architecture touts passivehaus design concept for Northern Ontario

A Sudbury architecture firm wants to bring a design concept to the North that will make homes more efficient, economical, healthier, and safer.

Rob Fleury, partner and senior technologist at Centreline Architecture has been working on obtaining his passivhaus (passive house) designation, a special set of credentials to design homes and buildings that will make them more energy efficient.

“I still have to wait for my official designation, but I want to let the public know about this amazing building design concept and why it would be perfect for the North. It's a high-performance design and a different take on construction.”

Fleury has been designing homes for 14 years and wanted to explore other options.

The hope is to get the attention of contractors and people looking at building their own homes to look into passivhaus designs and see the savings and long-term benefits.

This isn't just about having a new product or service to offer, he insists, it's about changing minds and attitudes over what makes a great home.

Fleury often sees home designs that place a premium on large space and aesthetics, with energy efficiency taking less priority.

This often leads to homes that have poor air exchange, hot and cold spots, high energy bills, and in some cases, mould and moisture problems.

A passivhaus design eliminates many of those problems with the added bonus of the home often lasting longer.

Passivhaus buildings are a whole new design concept to reduce heat loss and rely less on external power.

Buildings and spaces are built to maximize natural lighting, reduce air leakage, leading to the home heating and cooling itself, as well as circulate air based on its design rather than add on systems to do that artificially.

This design concept would be perfect for the North, Fleury said, as it takes advantage of shorter winter days and colder winters as compared to southern Ontario.

Some examples he used included having large windows facing southward to take in more sunlight that would heat the air in the house and provide natural lighting.

Others include ventilation systems that have a higher heat recovery, airtight thermal envelopes sealing the building and higher grade insulation throughout to trap warmth in the winter and cool air in the summer.

Homes can be retrofitted, but require careful construction to achieve those values. But in the end, if done right can still bring energy costs down. In many cases, energy bills can be reduced as much as 75 per cent.

The passivhaus standard was developed in 1988 after a conversation between Bo Adamson of Lund University, Sweden, and Wolfgang Feist of the Institute for Housing and the Environment in Darmstadt, Germany. They were studying North American home designs developed in the 1970's during the oil embargo to build homes that used little to no energy.

Fleury said they are considering application of this system to retirement homes, apartments, and institutional buildings as a means to protect the elderly and very young.

Better air circulation inside sealed buildings would cut down on exposure to drafts and provide fewer places for mould, mildew, bacteria and viruses to incubate. 

Fleury is not aware of any passivhaus designed homes in Northern Ontario, but said homes and buildings can be retrofitted to similar standards.

Construction costs are higher for passivhaus designs, but pay for themselves in energy savings and health care costs.