There are many different ways to improve a home’s performance, ranging from small changes that fit into any budget, up to the rigorous certification and validation process of building a passive home. But because the passive house validation is so extensive, it often comes with a bigger price tag too – and is therefore unaffordable to many aspiring homeowners.
Which is why, In this article, we will talk about our approach to designing homes that are adding to a healthier and cheaper life for both the homeowners, as well as the planet, using our very own hybrid home method.
We want to emphasise that we do believe in passive homes, and encourage everyone who can to explore this option for their new home. But rest assured that even if you don’t have the opportunity to get a full passive house certification, or are maybe not convinced that this approach is the right path for you, there are alternatives that will still leave you with a highly energy efficient and more sustainable home.
ENERGY EFFICIENT HOUSE DESIGN
Australians have some of the most expensive energy bills in the world, and in 2021, 85% of us experienced bill shock due to working from home and lockdown rules.
But that’s not all. In Victoria alone, increasing the energy efficiency standard in the NCC (currently 6 stars, but due to be increased to 7 stars in September 2022) would result in a reduction of 72,000 tonnes of CO2 being emitted each year, which is essential to tackle climate change.
So, we definitely have more than enough reasons to make our homes more energy efficient. And what we see in our work is that there is a huge demand for energy efficient buildings in Australia. More and more people are willing to go the extra mile in their build and have high performance homes – or at least better than standard construction.
That is exactly why we have come up with the hybrid house.
WHAT IS A HYBRID HOME?
What we are doing in our design process is basically taking the best of both worlds, certified passive and passive solar, and incorporate these in a way that suits our client’s budgets.
Passive house vs. passive solar design: The main differences explained
We have always worked according to passive solar principles, but we wanted to go a step further. We were basically looking for a way to incorporate the majority of passive house principles, without having to outlay the additional costs for certification and the rigorous construction requirements and regulations.
So we basically pick and choose whatever principles work best for an individual home. We look at all the factors of a build, like orientation, building site and property conditions, client’s budget and most importantly, their individual needs and wants for the look and the performance of their future home. Based on that input, we then come up with a design that incorporates all of these aspects.
The usual aspects we draw from to achieve a high performance home are:
- North facing orientation
- High performance double glazed windows
- Airtight design details
- High quality insulation
To determine the most valuable aspects, we will complete a software data assessment either in NatHERS or the passive house equivalent, PHPP. Depending on climate, location, budget and other individual constraints, we then focus more on one aspect than the other – or go the extra mile to come as close to passive house as possible without certification.
The end goal is always to be as energy efficient as possible – but keep our client’s wishes and their budget in mind.
If you are interested in windows and glazing, we have a very thorough article on how to choose the best glazing for your home. And if you don’t like to read that much, we also have a podcast episode that fully focuses on window performance.
ARE HYBRID HOMES CERTIFIED?
The huge advantage of passive houses is that their performance is certified, using not only tested materials but also experienced passive house certifiers to ensure the build is performing as intended.
While the hybrid home doesn’t have the same rigorous – and at times costly – certification process, we are most certainly not just guessing. We are also testing the performance of the home.
This is done via our beloved blower door test, that checks how airtight a house is, so how much air is escaping the inside. And that technology is exactly what is being used for passive houses.
So we are building to passive standards, we are testing to passive standards, but we are eliminating some of the more expensive and time consuming aspects of the certification process. That way, our clients get an exceptionally well performing home within their budget – a real hybrid home.
WHAT ABOUT DURING CONSTRUCTION?
We work very closely with a tight knit group of builders, who we know and trust. They are all passionate about energy efficient building techniques, and passive house advocates, so they are really on board with everything we do and are happy to have their construction work tested.
But of course, you won’t always be able to fully know and trust your builder beforehand. So for those of you who want to eliminate the trust factor when engaging a builder, here are 3 ways that will make you sleep better at night.
1. Make sure your designer or architect engages a builder during the design phase of your home.
We always engage a builder from the first moment we take on a project. This not only helps get a better understanding of real life construction costs, but also allows us to develop a close relationship with the builder and understand their motivation for the build. If they don’t have a strong background in passive solar or passive house design, we can incorporate additional information into our design documentation, or focus our pre-construction interactions on educating them about necessary details.
2. If you trust your designer or architect, ask them if they would be willing to act as a consultant during the build, to check on the specific building details they outlined in their design to achieve high performance as well as the given energy rating. You can also engage an independent consultant for this if necessary.
You can include this in your building contract as well, to make sure your consultant will have all the access they need to validate your home’s performance.
3. Ask your designer or architect for bulletproof documentation of specific performance details, or use our documentation visuals as a guideline for your builder to follow.
This is extremely valuable and helpful when you are trying to ensure a certain level of performance. The devil is in the details, so giving your builder a clear visual for how they are supposed to install windows, insulate corners, or seal and wrap the building envelope will do a lot to give you peace of mind that everything is done according to your plans.
Got any more questions? Let us know! Send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.