What's it like living in a Passive House in Squamish or Whistler?

What’s it Like Living in a Passive House in Squamish or Whistler?

What is it like, living in a passive house in the Sea to Sky Corridor? Squamish and Whistler both offer residents a warm small-town vibe, but with big-city amenities and outdoor recreational activities right at your doorstep. The Sea to Sky Corridor provides a great work and play balance, with unlimited access to the great outdoors.

Whistler Blackcomb offers world-class skiing, snowboarding and bobsledding, while Squamish gives sailing enthusiasts access to Howe Sound and the ocean; but both communities provide snowshoeing, ice and rock climbing, vast networks of hiking and mountain bike trails, whitewater rafting, golf courses and much more.

Spectacular views

Depending on the location of your building lot and the direction the home is facing, your Squamish or Whistler passive house can offer some of the most spectacular views to be found anywhere in Canada.

Located about 45 minutes north of Vancouver, along the scenic Sea to Sky Highway, Squamish is situated at the northern tip of Howe Sound. Some of the breathtaking views available to Squamish homeowners include the green waters of Howe Sound, Shannon Falls and other waterfalls, Mamquam River and glaciers that glimmer in the sunlight. In every direction you look, you’re surrounded by a lush green rainforest canopy and mountains; most notable being The Stawamus Chief, Mount Garibaldi, Atwell Peak and the sprawling spires of the Tantalus Range.

North of Squamish, the Whistler is best known as the host for the 2010 Winter Olympic games. Whistler Village is nestled at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, but the Resort Municipality of Whistler comprises a network of 23 neighbourhoods along the Sea to Sky Highway, from Function Junction to Green Lake. The incredible views include surrounding mountain ranges, with their alpine lakes and meadows, and also Twin Lakes, Nita Lake, Alta Lake and Green Lake.

Healthy and incredibly comfortable

Your passive house uses an airtight envelope, so there are zero drafts, and the weather is kept outside where it belongs. Typical homes can heat and cool down quickly, using a furnace or air conditioner, and they burn a lot of energy doing it. Temperature fluctuations can be significant. Because your passive house is so well insulated, it can do a lot with just a wee bit of energy. The temperature typically won’t vary more than a few degrees year-round, without temperature variations from room to room, drafts or cold spots.

Passive House is an international certification program based in Germany, with a Canadian office in Victoria, BC. Passive houses were originally designed to take advantage of solar heat gains, with the long side of the building facing south, and regulating the heat with window size and shading. Healthy, natural light bathes the home’s interior throughout the day. Solar glazing is most effective if the windows are within 5 degrees for true south.

Some designers no longer consider orientation to be a critical design factor, and there’s a growing trend to use the home’s orientation to generate renewable solar energy to achieve net zero status, and then employ that energy to achieve even greater mechanical control over the level of interior comfort. Thermal storage can also be factored into passive house design, where hot or cold energy is stored in the building itself.

During the winter months, your windows will be closed and your ventilation system will provide fresh air while recycling the home’s heat. On sunny days the house may not require the heating system at all. In the spring and fall, and part of the summer, the weather in the Pacific Northwest can be very comfortable, and you may want to leave your windows open. During the hottest weeks of summer, your home’s insulation and shading will keep heat out. The home’s control panel can even automate the application of window shades, external blinds or overhangs as required.

To minimize energy consumption, some passive houses use ‘night-flushing’ during the hottest summer days, as an alternative to air conditioning. The windows are opened at night to take advantage of the cool night air, using ‘summer bypass mode’. When in summer bypass mode, the Heat-Recovery-Ventilator (HRV) still exchanges the home’s air, but it bypasses the core, allowing the house to cool more quickly. With night flushing, a passive house can maintain a temperature that is roughly the average of the outside daytime and nighttime temperatures. For example, if the daytime highs reached 29°C midday, and at night the temperature dropped to 14°C, the home could be a comfortable 21°C. A small air conditioning system may be on standby to handle particularly hot days.

The insulation and air-tightness of your home’s envelope aren’t just measured by the temperature on the thermostat. Conventional homes may not have drafts around the windows, but the convection currents generated from the cold single- or double-pane glass coming in contact with the warm room temperature can make a room feel drafty.

Fresh, clean air in every room

One of the things passive house owners talk about most is how fresh and clean-smelling their home is. A conventional house may rely on large kitchen or bathroom fans to remove damp air or odours, and opening windows to provide brief periods of fresh air. In a passive house, the ventilation system runs 24 hours a day, replacing stale, humid or otherwise “polluted” indoor air with fresh, outdoor air continuously. The envelope is sealed, so outdoor pollution, dust and pollen stay outside.

Living in a passive house, every room in your house receives a steady stream of fresh, filtered air, delivered by the ventilation system. Humidity inside the home is kept at a comfortable 30 to 60 percent. Passive houses are the ideal homes if your family has any allergy sufferers, removing odours, cleaning chemicals, pollen and dust. Some passive house owners have expressed that they can enjoy pets again because Heat-Recovery-Ventilator (HRV) can remove a significant percentage of pet hair and dander.

Your high-efficiency heat recovery ventilation system uses a heat-exchanger ‘core’ to capture heat or coolness from the exhaust air, and transfer that energy back to the fresh air being brought into the house. The ventilation system exhausts air from the bathrooms and kitchen without recirculating it. The system’s boost mode can kick in to help remove shower steam or bathroom and kitchen odours.

Your windows can of course be opened if you’d like to enjoy a refreshing outdoor breeze, but when it’s hot or cold outside, your home will work best with the windows closed. One of the things you’ll immediately notice is the depth of your window sills, due to the thickness of the insulation used in your exterior wall assemblies.

The value of comfort is so integral to the passive house concept that the Passivhaus Institut has included a “comfort equation” in its design and building process.

It’s so quiet

Thick, super-insulated walls, triple-glazed windows and a sealed envelope keep outside noise out. If your passive house will be near traffic or other sources of noise, or the sound of BC’s coastal rain for months on end becomes wearisome, the quiet of your new home should contribute to your sense of tranquillity. It should be noted that sounds inside the envelope also remain inside.

Squamish waterfront, with Mt. Garibaldi

Minuscule hydro bills

Imagine opening your power bill and seeing a balance that’s only 10% of what you’re paying now. Passive houses use roughly 90% less energy for heating and cooling than a typical North American house. They accomplish this by using about 3 times as much insulation (ie: R55 walls and R80 roof) and triple-glazed windows that are typically 3 times as efficient. By using an air-tight envelope, warm air does not leak out, and cold air does not leak in.

To be certified by the Passivhaus Institut, a passive house must consume less than 15 kilowatt-hours of electricity per square meter per year for heating and cooling, with total energy consumption for all heat, hot water and household electricity not to exceed 120 kilowatt-hours per square meter per year.

Virtually maintenance free

Keeping your passive house working efficiently typically involves changing the charcoal filters of the recirculating kitchen hood every 6 months or so, and the air filters in the ventilation system about once a year.

One of the greatest advantages of living in a sealed envelope is that the condensation-causing thermal bridges that bring moisture, mould, mildew and wood rot are eliminated. Passive houses are more durable and consequently have lower upkeep costs. Many of the interior and exterior finish materials used in passive house design, such as high-performance windows and doors, are virtually maintenance-free. Eliminating a furnace, boiler or other conventional HVAC system means that there simply are fewer “moving parts” that will require repairs or maintenance.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of all

Most passive house owners speak about how living in a passive house makes them feel. They feel good about living in a passive house and sharing their experience with others. Knowing that they are doing something to help the environment is important to them, and they believe that if they can influence other people to reduce their carbon footprint, leading by example, their impact will be even greater.

Reid Madiuk

Reid Madiuk's been putting on a toolbelt since he was twelve years old, alongside his father, one of Whistler's first residential builders. As a third-generation Whistler and Squamish builder, Reid brings over 20 years of carpentry expertise to designing and constructing exceptional homes.

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