Custom Home Builders’ Insights on Passive Houses (Requirements, Design, & Functionality)

Climate change is a major challenge, with buildings consuming up to 40% of global energy and contributing up to 30% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. So, people are always looking for new ways to save energy, but options are often limited.

Switching to LED bulbs or lowering the thermostat can save energy, but these methods aren’t new or exciting. That’s where passive houses come in—a lesser-known but effective way to reduce energy costs and combat climate change.

But what exactly is a passive house? How is this new construction concept beneficial to homeowners? And what are the requirements, designs, and functionalities you should consider? Continue reading this blog to get insights and tips from ‘residential contractors near me’ in Vancouver, BC.

What are Passive Houses? 

Passive House (or Passivhaus) is a new home construction concept designed to minimize energy consumption and ensure excellent air quality. A certified passive house consumes minimal energy, which leads to low energy bills and a small carbon footprint.

Like off-grid custom homes and buildings, which reduce energy consumption by disconnecting from public utilities and generating their own energy, passive houses aim to be highly energy-efficient.

Passive House Requirements

Maximum space heating demand15 kWh/m² per year or maximum heating load: 10 W/m²
Pressurization test result at 50 PaMaximum 0.6 ACH (both over-pressure and under-pressure)
Maximum total primary energy demand120 kWh/m² per year
Thermal comfortabilityNot more than 10% of the hours in a year exceed 25 degrees

Passive House is More than Just a Low-Energy Home Construction

Vancouver general contractors view passive houses as amazing projects that go beyond being low-energy home building:

  • Less Heat and Cool Energy: Saves up to 90% on heating and cooling energy compared to typical buildings in the Vancouver area and over 75% compared to average new builds.
  • Less Oil and Gas: Uses not more than 1.5 litres of oil or 1.5 cubic meters of gas per square meter annually, which is much less than standard “low-energy” buildings. 
  • Internal Heat Source: Utilizes the sun, internal heat sources, and heat recovery to eliminate conventional heating systems. General contractors can use passive cooling techniques like strategic shading in warmer months to stay cool.
  • Internal Surface Temperature: They offer high comfort levels with internal surface temperatures close to indoor air temperatures. Some renovation projects use specialized windows and a highly insulated building frame to maintain desired temperatures.
  • Good Ventilation System: Provides constant fresh air to ensure superior air quality without drafts. A highly efficient heat recovery unit recycles the heat from exhaust air, which creates a very positive experience for homeowners.

Passive House Design Principles and Functionality

Thermal Control

Thermal control is crucial in passive residential renovations. It means custom homes can prevent heat from entering or leaving through its materials. 

Two Methods for Thermal Control

Superinsulation

All buildings need some thermal insulation to meet construction industry codes, but passive houses use much more, called superinsulation. This allows custom homes or any home renovations to rely on internal heat sources to reduce extra heating. 

Every Vancouver general contractor would agree that installing superinsulation is also an easy way to retrofit your home renovation project for Passive House certification.

Eliminating Thermal Bridges

Passive house structures eliminate thermal bridges using continuous insulation, insulated concrete forms (ICFs), structural insulated panels (SIPs), and double- or triple-paned windows with thermally broken frames. This prevents energy loss and helps regulate interior temperatures year-round.

Remodeling Project Considerations for Thermal Insulation

We recommend incorporating the following in your home renovation or new meeting room construction: 

Element R-Value (Ability of insulation material to resist flow)Assembly 
SIP (structural insulated panels) roof replacement5354
SIP panel walls 4648
Spray insulation 5255
Cellar wall insulation 30
Rigid insulation (under slab)13.6

Air Control

Passive house renovation projects also focus on controlling airflow. This is done by sealing the building’s envelope and installing a balanced mechanical ventilation system.

Balanced Ventilation System

You may use balanced, whole-building ventilation systems with heat recovery capabilities. These systems transfer warmth from exhaust air to incoming fresh air to ensure efficient energy use. Heat recovery ventilation (HRV) and energy recovery ventilation (ERV) systems commonly recover at least 75% of the heat, which provides near-room temperature fresh air year-round.

Our project manager and construction team will suggest implementing the following:  

  • Exhaust air system in kitchen and bathroom renovations
  • Energy recovery ventilation in ERV cellars
  • Fresh air supply in living areas 

Air-Sealed Building Envelope

Air leakage through gaps and cracks can account for 25-40% of heating and cooling energy use, according to the airtightness evaluation of Canadian dwellings. To meet Passive House standards, your building or renovation project must employ air-sealing methods and pass a blower door test to meet the airtightness criteria of 0.6 ACH at 50 Pa.

For airtight residential renovations, let general contractors implement the following:

  • Taping skylights and windows
  • Sealing all spray insulation gaps
  • Reducing elements for the exterior envelope
  • Using wide panels for sip joints
  • Minimizing roof and wall penetrations 

Solar Radiation Control

General contractors emphasize effective solar radiation control, known as passive solar design. One key aspect of this new construction concept is aligning your home renovations with:

  • Solar orientation
  • Insulation variations across seasons
  • Sun path considerations

Two Main Strategies for Controlling Solar Radiation

Daylighting and Solar Shading

Contractors may suggest utilizing windows, skylights, and other light-admitting features to illuminate your house naturally. This can cut overall energy consumption by about 40%. Your general contractor and its design team can incorporate: 

  • Light shelves
  • Canopies and awnings
  • Balconies and overhanging eaves
  • External louvers and brise soleil
  • Trees (mainly deciduous types)

Solar shading involves using features to control solar heat entering your house. Effective solar shading blocks excessive heat during hot months to prevent overheating while allowing sunlight during cold months to utilize its thermal properties. General contractors and designers incorporate the following:

  • Internal blinds and curtains
  • Shutters (internal or external)
  • External roller blinds
  • Adjustable shading devices
Using High-Performance Windows

High-performance windows are necessary for buildings seeking passive house certification, as windows account for 25-30% of HVAC energy usage. Window frames made from low-conductivity materials such as fibreglass or equipped with thermal breaks further reduce heat transfer. General contractors and interior designers suggest using the following:

  • Double-glazed low-E insulated with warm edge spacer
  • Double or tripled glazed thermal break low-E

Construction Costs of Building a Passive House

According to an article from the Zero Energy Project, designing a passive house costs between $175 and $200 per square foot. This is similar to the cost of regular detached homes in Toronto, which range from $110 to $210 per square foot.

But, these costs may vary based on your location, project type, the size of your dream home, and your energy efficiency goals. While building a passive house can be expensive, you’ll save a lot on energy bills the entire time.

Real-World Passive House Examples

1. Tiny Lot Passive in Victoria, BC

Floor Area236sqm. 
Type of CertificationClassic Passive House
Building TypeSingle Family Residential 


Features: 

  • Achieved high energy efficiency on a small lot
  • Compensated for limited southern exposure with tight air barrier, top-of-the-line HRV, and high R-value insulation
  • Used low-VOC products and solid maple flooring for better indoor air quality
  • Designed for aging-in-place with a central elevator and accessible features
  • Integrated indoor and outdoor areas for a tranquil environment

2. Dunbar – Single Family House in Vancouver, BC

Floor Area 186.6sqm.
Building TypeSingle Family Residential
Climate ZoneWarm-temperate 


Features

  • Multi-generational project transformed property for aging parents and growing families.
  • Resulted in 3 separate units: 2 passive houses and a laneway house
  • Overcame RS5 zoning challenges and shading from adjacent objects
  • Facades protected by scorched wood and metallic metal panels

3. Byng Street Passive House in Victoria, BC

Floor Area278sqm. (with 234.5sqm. treated area)
Type of CertificationClassic Passive House
Building TypeSingle Family Residential


Features:

  • Achieved International Passive House standard with conventional wood frame construction
  • Heat recovery ventilator, wood-aluminum clad triple pane windows for sustainable features
  • High insulation and airtight membrane with no thermal bridging
  • Low VOC finishes, low flow fixtures, LED lighting, and operable windows to reduce ecological footprint
  • Roof skylights for natural light without compromising Passive House standards
  • Flat roof prepared for photovoltaic panels to become an Energy Plus home

Build Your Passive House Today with a Reputable General Contractor

If your next project is building your new home, why not consider a passive house for sustainability and functionality? 

You can find general contractors in Vancouver, BC, who are skilled and knowledgeable enough to build your dream home with energy efficiency in mind. Just opt for a Vancouver general contractor with an extremely professional team that offers high-rated service and will do an amazing job to make you a satisfied customer.

To take advantage of the benefits of a passive house, consider Major Homes Ltd. for general contracting services. If you need project management, home builders services for a home renovation, or even commercial renovations, you can expect quality management with Major Homes Ltd. Speak to an expert today to discuss your next project. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are passive homes worth considering?

The median sales price for new homes is approximately $430,300. For custom-built homes in Vancouver, BC, which make up 21% of new single-family homes, building a passive home can be worthwhile. Custom homes are usually more expensive, but it’s easier to implement passive house standards in new builds.

In the construction industry, a passive building commonly costs only 3% to 5% more than a conventional one. With an experienced general contracting company, the cost can be nearly the same. Your energy savings and increased property value can offset the extra costs. If building new or doing major renovations isn’t your option, you can retrofit your existing home to meet passive house standards.

Does a passive house need heating?

Passive houses optimize thermal gain and minimize thermal losses, which require 90% less energy for heating than other buildings or commercial projects. They don’t rely on traditional heating sources like furnaces or boilers but use renewable energy sources such as solar panels, geothermal energy, or heat pumps.

What materials are passive houses built from?

Vancouver general contractors use structural insulated panels (SIPs) with framing, insulation, and exterior sheathing. SIPs can have outer layers of oriented strand board (OSB), metal, plywood, or Sheetrock, with a core of thermally insulating plastic foam.

Building with SIPs reduces the number of components, with panels 8-10 feet wide and up to 20 feet long. The joints are taped, and screw holes are filled with spray foam to minimize air leaks. Passive house windows and doors (known for better seals and sweeps) help maintain a continuous, airtight envelope—crucial for energy efficiency.

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