Imagine living in a home where the temperature was comfortable and constant, the indoor air quality was outstanding and it was noticeably quiet inside.
Building a home that is a delight to occupy while minimising its environmental footprint is becoming a priority for an increasing number of home owners.
Ballarat architect Talina Edwards is one of a few hundred Australian professionals leading the revolutionary housing movement called Passivhaus, or passive house in English, and working for it to be the new normal.
Ms Edwards designed the Owl Woods Passive House in Trentham, one of the first twenty certified Passivhaus projects in Australia.
Simple things like orientation, shading, sealing up gaps in homes and putting more insulation in, it does all make a huge difference.Talina Edwards, architect
She won seven awards for her work on the house and for her contribution to sustainability and innovation in architecture last year.
Ms Edwards said the recognition of her work at industry awards helped her share the story of Passivhaus and educate more people to understand better building design.
"It is elevating the awareness around more sustainable homes, more healthy homes and better homes for people and the planet," she said.
"That is what has been super exciting for us."
Ms Edwards said she had been interested in sustainable house design throughout her career, but discovered certified Passivhaus, a strict standard to be the world's best homes, about five or six years ago.
While well established in Europe and North America, Passivhaus is relatively new to Australia, but interest is growing rapidly.
The Owl Woods House completed in 2019 was Ms Edwards' first certified Passivhaus project.
It adheres to key passive house principles of site orientation, double or triple glazed windows, high levels of insulation, eliminating thermal bridging, ensuring the house is airtight and installing mechanical ventilation.
Ms Edwards explained orientation involved considering the location of shading and sunshine and eliminating thermal bridging meant avoiding the use metal frames on windows, for example, as the metal brings the cold or heat from outside in.
How have we not always done this?Talina Edwards, architect
She said many people asked why these principles were not applied in the construction of every house when they learnt about passive house design.
"Many people say 'how have we not always done this?'
"We often say our homes here in Ballarat are wooden tents. Many of them were built over 100 years ago with different building materials then.
"In the 80s gas was really cheap so all of our homes had gas heating and it kind of didn't matter if they were a bit drafty because you just pumped up your gas heating and stayed pretty comfortable.
"But with climate change our extremes are getting worse. Ballarat has got smaller springs and autumns. We don't have many days where we get that 22 degrees.
"With a passive house you don't need any heating or cooling essentially, a minimal amount at certain times of the year, but it gives you that constant temperature inside.
"That is where the awareness has definitely grown... We are definitely a bit slower than parts of the world in Europe and North America where they have been doing this for many many years.
"We are slowly playing catch up and the building code is absolutely going in this direction. We are hoping the rest of the industry is going to catch up really soon."
Ms Edwards said the slow movement towards passive house design was a combination of lack of consumer demand, cheap volume built homes and the lagging building code.
"That first problem is the building code is not up to scratch yet. It is a slow slow game to change that but it is changing," she said.
"Commercial buildings are starting to look at thermal bridging and the air tightness and it is coming in for the residential market too in the next revision of the code. Things will start to change.
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"A lot of our houses are built quite cheaply for the volume market. To take this extra care and quality, to do this extra level of detail and achieve this result does cost a bit more at the moment.
"We are hoping in the future as it becomes more normal, as supply and demand catches up, it will start to be more comparative.
"In terms of the demand, once people are hearing about it everyone wants one but at the moment there are some budget constraints around that.
"To increase a standard volume builder home to a passive house standard there is a big price increase because it is different to what they normally do, but if you are going for a custom home anyway, it can be a similar cost."
Ms Edwards said there should be more consumer awareness about the orientation of homes, as it was 'nuts' to not be considered in design.
"There is unfortunately still not enough consumer awareness. It should be so obvious. It is taught to all designers now but I don't think it always was," she said.
"Volume builds are more about how you can fit it on the block and make it face the street but that is not always ideal.
"Simple things like orientation, shading, sealing up gaps in homes and putting more insulation in, it does all make a huge difference.
"I think especially this year with the pandemic and people spending a lot more time at home, it has really made us realise where we would like to improve our homes."
Passivhaus standards can be applied to any type of building such as shopping centres, aged care facilities, hospitals, schools.
Ms Edwards said she would love to be involved in applying passive house principles to the construction of social housing in the future.
"There was a project in London that won a big architectural award last year and it was a certified passive house and a social housing development," she said.
"It was so applaudable because with a passive house you have lower ongoing running costs, you have much less heating and cooling to pay for.
"You still have your electricity requirements, you have got hot water to deal with, but the heating and cooling is so minimal it means the tenants living in these homes are not having to spend the small amount of money they do have on heating and cooling.
"It is a real win win."
Ms Edwards said she hoped to see passive house design normalised and commonplace in Australia within the next 10 years.
She said it was particularly important as a response to the climate emergency.
Buildings produce 40 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, according to Australian Passive House Association.
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Of the 40 per cent, 23 per cent is associated with the energy to heat and cool buildings and 18 per cent in embodied carbon in building materials and supply chain emissions.
"I would really like to see the whole industry step up and do the right thing," Ms Edwards said.
"There has absolutely been evidence of that across the board last year and it has been really amazing.
"Everyone is coming together to say we can do better, we have choices here about doing better. I am sure it will be commonplace soon. It needs to be."
Ms Edwards is a board member of the Australian Passive House Association and played a role in creating the free book and e-book Passivhaus In Australia.
The book is available on the Australian Passive House Association website.
Talina Edwards Architecture's achievements:
- HOUSES Awards 2020: SHORTLISTED Sustainability Category Owl Woods Passive House (Talina Edwards Architecture)
- Design Matters National Awards 2020: WINNER Residential - New House Up to $500K-$1M Owl Woods Passive House (Talina Edwards Architecture)
- BDAA Awards 2020: WINNER National Design Excellence Award - Owl Woods Passive House (Talina Edwards Architecture)
- BDAA Awards 2020: WINNER New residential buildings 251 - 350 sqm and over $2,500 / sqm - Owl Woods Passive House (Talina Edwards Architecture)
- Sustainability Awards 2020: WINNER Emerging Sustainable Architect/Designer (Talina Edwards)
- Sustainability Awards 2020: FINALIST Women in Sustainability (Talina Edwards)
- ArchiTeam Awards 2020: WINNER Contribution and Innovation Medal (Talina Edwards)
- ArchiTeam Awards 2020: WINNER Sustainability Medal (on behalf of Architects Declare)
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