Passive House Gets Active

Wooldridge_dusk_copped and Stamped

Wow! Lots of excitement as we finally see the reality emerging in 3D…and quickly!

Most of April involved creating the foundation with the last few days of April and early days of May in actually getting the house up.

This post will be done in 2 parts, so get comfortable, grab your favourite beverage – it’s a long one!

PART 1:  Construction Gets Real

As this is a Passive House (more on this below), the foundation involves a concrete slab over 18″ of geo-foam insulation. This variant on a slab foundation meant that the concrete pour would be the final step – following radon rock & ventilation, box framing, installation of plumbing, setting in the foam and vapour barriers, all in a precise sequence to ensure air-tightness. Delays for the foundation were due to the need for multiple inspectors in a particular order, co-ordinating the sub-trades, the Easter long weekend, and of course, the weather. The concrete pour ended up happening on April 27. Earlier in the process, we opted for Collective Carpentry (from Invermere) to construct these specialized passive house walls which they can do indoors during the winter. The “house” arrived on 2 trucks, flat-stacked segments that were then unloaded and positioned with a large crane. The major benefit of having our house done this way is that the house was erected in 5 days rather than 2-3 months for the same work on the ground (what’s called stick-built).

Step 1: Framing for foundation

Step 2: Foam under slab & Plumbing


Step 3: Rebar & Concrete pour

video:  concrete pour

video:  concrete smoothing


Step 4: Walls erected

  • crew prepares for walls to be installed
  • the walls all arrived on flatbed trucks 2 days apart. We couldn’t help but think that if Ikea sold houses, this is how it would look…
  • the walls are unloaded by crane and stacked in reverse order of build

video:  hoisting walls

  • the first wall is installed
  • the first floor is completed in 1 day (Monday)
  • the second floor is installed on day 2 (Tuesday)

video:  example of wall installation wall install

Step 5: Roof installed

  • Day 3 (Wednesday) sees the roof trusses arrive and loaded up….
  • Day 4 (Thursday) the roof trusses are positioned and the garage roof is sheathed.
  • Day 5 (Friday):  while the fellows continue with sheathing and work on beams, Passive House Canada sponsors a social event where industry folk, students in construction programs at BCIT, and the media can meet the design and construction team, ask questions about Passive Houses, and view the construction materials and the building components directly.

The 6 fellows in the pic below are the Collective Carpentry crew (Rane, Jeremiah, Trent, Paul, Jeremie, and Jan) who prefabricated the passive house walls in an indoor facility over the winter (Invermere, B.C.). We have nothing but kudos for these fellows. Many neighbours were awestruck not only by their work and the dramatic rise of the house, but also by how nice they all were, even taking the time to explain what was going on and answering questions. Also seen below are the design architects, Clark & Brett from NIDO (Kelowna, B.C.). We have learned most of what we understand about passive builds from them, and they were very high on having the house done through pre-fab. We can see why. Neighbours even thanked us for being leaders by bringing this progressive project to the city (while there is a passive built daycare in the city, this is the first passive house here), but perhaps they will be most thankful for only enduring 5 days of noisy cranes, saws, drills, and hammers rather than the 2-3 months of a regular build 🙂

This was a most exciting and dramatic week! We caught ourselves smiling at each other with the unspoken words “we have a house!”

Next up:  we are told that the roofers are ready to go and we expect the windows and doors to arrive shortly.

PART 2:  What’s a Passive House Anyway?

Passive house (German: Passivhaus) is a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, which reduces the building’s ecological footprint. It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling. [Wikipedia]


Essentially, a passive house is a super-insulated house, with airtight construction and a continuous ventilation system, with high performance windows & doors, and is oriented to capitalize on solar energy. This avoids the need for an “active” mechanical heating system (like a furnace).  You might envision it like a double-walled thermos or a traditional wall encased by another wall with lots of insulation between. Or as our designer said:  “like wrapping a regular [house] shell in a warm sweater.” Our walls are 14″ thick.


There are 3 sources of heat in a passive house:  direct solar via window orientation, occupant use (appliances & breathing bodies), and solar panels. Heat produced is recaptured and redistributed by an HRV system to maintain a constant comfortable temperature year-round. Over the course of the year, we should balance out the electricity we create with that which we use (sometimes called “net zero”). However, in the South Okanagan, cooling is of bigger concern than heating. The size of our south-facing windows were actually reduced following energy modelling in order to reduce the need for air conditioning. Additionally, we will be installing some strategic solar shading for the summer.

Here is a link to an article that nicely summarizes the “levels” of passive house technology:  passive house standards

Here is a link to a video that takes a more humorous approach to explaining a passive house:  en français

While passive houses are VERY popular in German speaking countries and Scandinavia (where passive is only one form of sustainable, low-energy housing), they are also being built in many countries including the U.S.A. & Australia. [FYI, the largest, a 29-storey high-rise social housing project in Bilbao, Spain was completed in 2018]. We are only beginning to adopt this type of house building in Canada. The Passive House Canada website profiles a variety of projects: passive houses Canada

There are several projects on the go in B.C. now but we are the first residence in Penticton.  As B.C. has a new 5-step building code that is being rolled out from 2017 to 2032, we will far exceed step 5 with 90% greater efficiency now. This is truly building for the future.

STEPCODE_Steps_Part9We have had excellent support from the City of Penticton and have drawn some media attention.   Castanet

Building a passive house was a logical approach to “downsizing & upgrading” (or the new term “right-sizing”) for retirement living. We have a small lot in an excellent location and wanted to have a small foot print. So we have swapped more square footage for super high building technology, comfort, low maintenance, aging-in-place design, flexibility, and walkability.




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