What does it mean to build a healthy house?

Air quality is incredibly important, and in today's environment of airtight construction small mistakes can become huge problems. I came across this document a little while ago from the American Lung Association. It outlines the top ten questions to ask your home builder about steps they implement to build a home with healthy air. While a number of the provisions have now been incorporated into the new Alberta Building Code, each one provides a good stepping stone into a different conversation about building homes and practices we use, or avoid, in modern construction.

Even more importantly, these questions become vital topics when renovating. Applying modern construction methods to older homes, especially when doing only a partial renovation, can have serious unintended consequences, and if your builder doesn't understand the theory around these practices your home can actually go from being old but safe, to fresh on the surface but dangerous underneath.

We welcome the chance to discuss all of these questions with you, and how they might apply to your home--please contact us at any time!

What is Passiv Haus, or in English, Passive House?

According to the Wikipedia article, Passive House is a "rigorous, voluntary standard for energy in a building, reducing its ecological footprint." Passiv Haus was developed in Germany by Wolfgang Feist as a performance based standard for energy efficiency. The modern application mathematically calculates and projects the energy consumption of a proposed building, based on construction methods, assemblies, and environmental data for the specific location. The builder is then required to measure the results to confirm that he has actually met those standards.

The Passiv Haus standard is unique in that it implements both prescriptive and performance elements. No other building code has ever required a measurement on completion to confirm that the building as constructed actually meets the performance that it was designed to meet. In order to attain certification, a Passive Home must achieve an average year round heating consumption of less than 15 kW/h per square meter! This is a 90% reduction in heating costs from the average new home built to code standards here in Canada.

For more information, please visit the Passiv House Institute (Canada).

Achieving Passiv Haus certification requires careful planning, and exacting quality control during construction. At Nostos Restorations Ltd, each of our project managers has completed the training course, and we are currently in the process of designing our first Passive home! We are very excited to bring it to completion and apply for certification!

 Why are ventilation and airtight construction such buzzwords these days?

We hear people talking about building tight houses, or airtight construction, all the time. At the same time, we hear people discuss air quality, and often we get asked if it's possible for a home to be too airtight, or if the house needs to breathe. These are important questions! If your builder can't explain these answers to you, you should seriously consider talking to other builders.

Fifty years ago, nobody was worried about the environment, fossil fuels, or carbon dioxide. Gas was cheap, oil was cheap, and houses only had to keep you warm through the winter. As a result, houses were built "loose" or leaky on purpose, so that as your furnace heated the home it would also push moisture out of the walls, keeping the home dry and preventing mould from forming.

Today, with our focus on reducing our ecological footprint, building an airtight home is the most effective step you can take to reduce the cost of heating. However, your wall and roof assemblies can no longer dry themselves out as effectively if they are not built correctly. This can cause mould, loss of insulation value, and even structural damage. If you're building a new home, ask you builder if he will conduct a blower door test on completion and include the results with your final package--this is an easy way to ensure that your new home is airtight.

When renovating, however, it's important to understand how the house was built originally, and determine if modern building methods will create problems when combined with the old construction. In this situation, unless the entire house is going to be gutted and redone, a builder who understand building science is absolutely non-negotiable.

 

 

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