Brussels' Devon Henry now passive house certified
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Brussels-area home builder and owner of DJ Henry Homes and Renovations Devon Henry is now a certified passive house tradesperson with his accreditation coming all the way from Germany.
Henry had been working with passive house standards locally for several years, building Chris and Judy Lee’s new home in Walton as a showcase for passive houses in the local community. When the certification class was coming up (there are generally only two per year in Ontario and the schedule has been altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic), Henry thought he should work to earn the certification to add another layer of qualification to his operation when he tells locals he can build a passive house for them.
He attended the four-day course in Minden (a location chosen as central for all of those taking the course) and then took his exam in Barrie. Henry said he felt like he knew much of what was told, but he certainly learned some things along the way and he wouldn’t have wanted to take the exam without first taking the course.
He then received notification from the passive house headquarters in Germany that he had passed in the building envelope, making him a Certified Passive House Tradesperson.
The initial concept of a passive house dates back to the late 1980s in Germany, where the first “passivhaus” was built in the early 1990s. The term pertains to a voluntary standard of building applied to a house that makes it incredibly energy efficient and requires very little heating or cooling.
Due to the orientation of the building, strategic placement of elements such as windows and awnings and extremely efficient insulation in the walls, roof and windows, there is no need for a furnace or air-conditioning unit. It does, however, use a heat recovery unit (HRV), which provides the inside with fresh air without letting the house’s heat escape.
A properly-constructed passive house is said to use 90 per cent less energy than a standard house built to today’s building code. As part of the design, heat in the home can be provided by body heat, the sun, appliances, light bulbs and electronics.
The standards for a passive house are laid out, chapter and verse, in the Passivhaus Planning Package, meaning that while many environmentally-efficient structures may use elements from the passive house concept, a structure must meet certain goals in order to be certified as a passive house.
First, the building must be designed to have an annual heating and cooling demand of not more than 15 kilowatt-hours per square metre per year, or be designed with a peak heat load of 10 watts per square metre.
Second, total primary energy consumption must not be more than 60 kilowatt-hours per square metre per year. And third, the building must not leak more air than 0.6 times the house volume per hour at 0.0073 pounds per square inch as tested by a blower door.
Henry is one of the few qualified to build passive houses in the area, with many other certified builders sticking to larger city centres. Henry, a carpenter by trade, first became interested in the concept of building a passive house when he kept trying to improve his house-building efficiency and as he researched doing things better and better, he found the highest standard of building a home is the passive house, which was first developed in Germany under the name “passivhaus”.
Henry has built his own house on McDonald Line just outside of Brussels as a passive house hybrid. Many of the elements of the home are passive house-standard, but he built it before he was completely sold on the passive house concept, and installed a heating system, although he hasn’t had to use it.
While Devon and his wife Janice’s house cannot be certified as a passive house due to a number of factors, the majority of its elements are inspired by passive house standards.
Henry had been working as a licensed carpenter on and off for nearly 15 years, but it wasn’t until he set his sights on his own family’s house that he was introduced to passive house and LEED-certified (the passive house equivalent in the United States) methods to ensure the house is insulated extremely well and that it makes the best use of the natural sun and wind patterns of the earth.
When building his own house, Henry wanted to know that he was doing the best job that he could and using the best materials and methods available.
On the path to building the best house possible, he found many of the passive house principles that aim to build a better house with only a five to 10 per cent premium on materials and methods that get you there. Those costs, Henry says, are more than offset by savings down the road.
As for building code houses, Henry says that shouldn’t be the goal of a builder. The building code dictates, essentially, the worst house that someone can legally build, he says. He says that he and other builders who are incorporating high efficiency, passive house methods are simply striving for more.
In saying that, Henry says that the methods to construct a passive house are known to all builders, they simply aren’t implemented as often. People like to spend money on things they can see with their houses, he says, whereas many of the factors that make a passive house what it is are invisible to the naked eye.
Henry says it really isn’t about changing building materials or methods, it’s about changing a way of thinking. If the state of mind changes and the will to build better houses is there, then the supply for more efficient building materials will follow as demand rises and local companies will get involved and begin producing those sought-after materials.
In the years since Henry began building these ultra-efficient homes, he says the interest has increased consistently with a steady flow of projects keeping him busy across southwestern Ontario and locally as well.