Andrew Peel from Peel Passive House Consulting explains why the quality assurance procedure is at the heart of the Passivhaus standard. He also feels the process can be useful to improve any building, even if not striving for the standard.
Interview with Andrew Peel
Andrew Peel is a low energy building consultant based in Toronto, Canada. It was when he was doing a masters thesis on renewable energy that he decided to veer more towards energy efficiency: “I felt that it made more sense, was easier, more effective to reduce our energy consumption than worry as much about how do we change the way that we produce energy.”
After accepting a thesis position at The Passive House Institute in Darmstadt, Germany, he then worked at Building Research Establishment (BRE) in England, before returning to Canada. He's now involved in Passivhaus certification, consultancy and training.
Which Passivhaus Standard Do North Americans Use?
Just to confuse anyone looking to reach the Passivhaus standard (Passive House standard) in North America there are two options!
The other has been recently introduced by Passive House Institute US (PHIUS), a breakaway group that felt that lower energy prices (amongst other things) in North America made the international standard less viable.
Andrew feels the feud has been detrimental overall because the vast majority of practitioners just want to build decent, high performance buildings.
Quality Assurance is About Getting the Building That Was Designed!
With most construction there is a performance gap between what the designs say will get built and what actually gets built.
So the quality assurance procedure (at the heart of the Passivhaus standard) is really a guarantee that what gets built is what was intended. Thus the new building will perform as anticipated.
Quality Assurance is a Rigorous Process
When construction professionals go through the Passivhaus quality assurance process for the first time it can come as a shock!
It is about validating all their calculations, assumptions and any of the data they collect on equipment.
Andrew gives an example of the performance of windows and how they are rated. In North America this is done through the National Fenestration Rating Council and so the tests and simulations carried out are different to those in Europe. That means that while the basic model can be modified to meet the European standards ultimately how they represent those results are simplified. So they can't just be used directly in Passivhaus assessments. A lot of work is required to ensure that the figures that are being used in the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) are appropriate.
Two Tests Give a Good Indication of the Quality of Construction
1. An air pressure test, better known as a blower door test, checks the airtightness of the building and reveals how leaky it is.
2. Ventilation commissioning requirements ensure that the system is operating as designed, and that the required amount of air is being supplied or extracted from the various rooms.
These two tests are good indicators of the quality of the construction and the installation of the systems.
Just through the documentation submitted and the airtightness result it will be clear whether a lot of care has been taken in the construction of the building.
Andrew Recommends a Two-Stage Review to Achieve Passivhaus Certification
An initial design stage review aims to resolve any issues that might jeopardise certification.
Once the building is complete the remainder of the documentation would be submitted and reviewed along with any changes.
This would include full set of plans (floor plans, elevations, section drawings), the window schedule, the ventilation design, the airtightness strategy, window performance figures, performance documentation from other equipment etc.
Too Much Construction is Sloppy
Andrew reflects on how the Toronto skyline has changed over the last 15 years – skyscrapers now dominate.
Unfortunately many of these buildings perform poorly with high energy demands, comfort issues in both the summer and winter, over-sized heating and cooling systems and so on.
However, the world's first Passivhaus certified high-rise building was unveiled in Germany in 2013. This shows that things could be different.
The RHW.2 office tower in Vienna is Passivhaus standard (copyright MVAHA)
The Quality Assurance Process Can Help Improve Any Building
Even if you don't want to go to the full extent of Passivhaus, using the quality assurance procedure is likely to result in a far better building.
Andrew gives an example of one of his clients in ‘cottage country' who were about to build to code but asked for some help. Through simple measures Andrew was able cut their energy demand in half, and it wasn't even going to be much extra work. The couple were amazed!
Most Homeowners Do Not Realise What is Possible
The majority of people are still unfamiliar with the Passivhaus standard and the benefits that building to it can afford.
As part of the Canadian Passive House Institute, Andrew says it's their mandate to educate the public, professionals, builders etc. that there is a better way.
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