One year in: what I love about living in our Passive House (part 1) 💙💙💙

The blurry effect the house has had on our children.  

The blurry effect the house has had on our children.  

In spirit of our Canadian thanksgiving, I wanted to follow up my previous post with some house love.

It is an eye-opening reminder of how good we’ve got it when I think back to some of our previous living environs. Over the past 10 years together, we’ve lived in 7 different homes (not including the 18 months we spent globetrotting), including some with electric baseboard heaters, and some with the highest-efficiency gas furnaces; some with AC, and some without;  some with mold in the walls, and some with bugs in the walls. In Ottawa, there’s no doubt that winter puts the performance of a house to the test. The air is dry, and it’s cold...freezing cold. We’ve employed all sorts of active strategies to thwart winter discomfort. To name a few:

  • Hot water bottles and flannel sheets in bed
  • Blankets, sweaters and slippers
  • Humidifiers to keep us breathing easy
  • Weather stripping and window plastic to improve the r-value of our windows (looking outside be-damned!)
  • Programmable thermostats to help manage time-of-use consumption costs

I still recall a time when Mark and I were living in an old Victorian home, which was renovated in the 80s, with electric baseboard heating (when electricity was cheap in Ontario). We were still recent’ish graduates, living paycheque to paycheque, with student loans up to our necks. We were terrified at the site of our hydro bill. We were looking at ~$700/month to heat our 2 bedroom apartment in the heart of winter. Of course we didn’t realize what we in for prior to signing the lease... The house was always cold — we stockpiled slippers and sweaters for all who came to visit. We purchased a cord of firewood for our fireplace to help counter our electricity demands. On the coldest nights, we moved our mattress out in front of the fire to sleep and keep warm. It was fun, and romantic, but a lot of work and a major pain in the ass. In hindsight, the fire was probably making our heating costs go up vs. down, knowing what we know now about building performance. We tapped out after one winter.

What was it like then living in our passive house, one winter and one summer in? Mark has a couple more technical posts on the heating patterns observed in our home, I’m just speaking anecdotally, from what my experience living in the house was. The best compliment I could give it is: I didn’t notice. The house didn’t affront me, the way the previous ones did. I wasn’t bothered by cold bedsheets, bathtubs or drafts coming through the walls and windows. I could sit in our book-nook and read to the kids an inch away from a large window. My daughters eczema improved, there were no nosebleeds, and less colds and runny noses – an attest to the air quality, I'm sure. When it came to the thermostat: we set it and forget it. The performance of the house faded to the background.

Also of note: our behaviour didn’t have to change, other than to open the curtains during the day; thus enabling us to simply live, and be, in the house. We took long showers and baths, frequently ran the washer and dryer, kept our espresso machine turned on, as well as the computer + backup drives, and kept our thermostat at an even 22°C throughout winter – we like being warm :) Our annual consumption (energy required to heat and power our house) was 47.5 GJ. This is less than half the energy of a typical new house in Ontario (107 GJ), without even trying. (That’s a new house, if we looked at average energy consumptions, the number would be much higher).

We feel as though our lives have been dramatically upgraded. We are living a more luxurious lifestyle in our new home, using a fraction of the energy to do so. People shouldn't have to give up or sacrifice in order to live in a passive house. At least that’s not the philosophy we’ve ascribed to. In order for it to become more mainstream, that’s hopefully how more people will come to see it too. The success of the Tesla isn’t because it’s the eco-friendly option (although those government incentives don’t hurt…). It’s because it performs waaaaaaay better than other cars, even other performance cars. It’s also beautifully designed, which is of equal importance IMHO. As I’m sure I’ve written before, if something performs well, but doesn’t look good or feel good, you won’t love it. And if you don’t love it, you won’t keep it or take care of it.

All this to say: I love my house. One year in, and all the aspects of the house that make it passive house, are actually what makes it 100% livable.

I’ll be sharing more 🏠❤️ and lessons learned.

Green Energy Doors Open — Sept 10th and 11th


We are participating in this years Green Energy Doors Open, taking place over the weekend of September 10th and 11th. This is a great chance to get out and see some Passive House builds near Ottawa! Not just ours. There are 7 with their doors open. Including a multi-unit community housing project on the CCOC bike tour and the Chelsea Passive House that plotnonplot designed, both of which Mark acted as Passive House advisor. If you're interested in Passive House, and building science, it's a great opportunity to see the various approaches and talk to the people who built them. RMA Architects also has its office doors open, where you can see some cross-laminated timber (CLT) in use.

Our house will be open for touring Sat afternoon and all day Sunday.

Square footage and magic

Window bench

Window bench

Apparently we've been misleading people when they ask us 'how many square feet' our house is. We've been guesstimating it at around 2,000 sq ft, when in actual fact, it's only 1,530. It just feels like a very generous 1,530, which, in my mind, so clearly establishes that good design can make a space feel larger.

Square footage is a funny thing. We understand it as a measure of how big a home is — how much usable floor space there is. Stairs and unfinished spaces are not included in its calculation. Neither are the open-to-below spaces, like we have in our house. So although the floor plate is around 900 square feet (30' x 30'), actual usable space is less than.

Square footage also comes in to play when you talk about costs. It's common to break down the cost of a build into a cost per square foot measure. This is an altogether different calculation, measured using outside dimensions. Maybe another discrepancy in our estimation has something to do with the fact that our walls are so thick. 

Those thick walls are one of the key design features that make our house feel so much larger. Each and every window takes advantage of them, which is where the intersection of passive house principles and good design principles align. For example, in our kitchen, the entire 20' length of the window will be fitted with butcher block in the sill to double as a counter and become any chef's dream prep space. With our sliding doors, the floor actually bleeds through the wall, until it meets the glass, effectively extending our floorspace by an extra two feet. And in our master suite, we have a picture window with a sill at bench-height, which we're building out further to become a comfortable, cushiony, window seat. So we're reclaiming square footage with these little tricks, even if they're not technically considered usable square feet. Magic!

Also, don't ask me about our build right now. I am sooooo ready to be done. Still so much to do. I'll talk about it when I'm in a better emotional state. 

May 14th - Open House and Tour 10am-3pm

Our new blue doors will be open for all this coming Saturday!

Our new blue doors will be open for all this coming Saturday!

We are planning to have an open door tour day this coming Saturday, May 14th. Our doors will be open from 10am until 3pm, and I'll be giving a walkthrough tour at 12pm.

Please come by and check out our Passive House build! This will be the last chance to tour the house before drywall starts. It's a great opportunity to see into the walls and mechanical systems. There's no need to sign up in advance, please just come by at your convenience.

Looking forward to seeing everyone in a week!

What: Wander House open doors tour day (Passive House infill project)

Who: Mark and Meghan Rosen will be on site all day to answer your questions and show you around. Mark is the Architect, Passive House Designer, Owner (with Meghan), and Builder on this project. Check out and for more information on Mark's architecture and consulting firms.

When: Saturday, May 14th 2016, 10am-3pm (tour at 12pm)

Where: 105 Bayswater Avenue, Ottawa, ON

Preliminary air test results on our Passive House

Before any of our electrical and plumbing work begins, we did a blower door test. This tests to see how air-tight our house is. The test we did was only a preliminary blower door test to ensure that our walls are on track to hit the target, even though not all of our windows and doors are completely sealed yet. We did some temporary taping in a few locations in order to perform the test. We also only performed a depressurization test this time (PassivHaus requires both a depressurization and pressurization test). This is because the temporary taping would have failed under pressurization.

The PassivHaus Standard requires an air tightness of 0.6 ACH50 or better. ACH50 stands for Air Changes per Hour at 50 Pascals of pressure, or the total number of times that the entire volume of air in the house will be exchanged through leakage at a given pressure. 50 Pascals is roughly 5 times the pressure that a house would experience on a cold winter day due to difference in temperatures between the inside and outside, so the test ensures that performance at everyday pressures will be ensured.

The results? We achieved 0.47 ACH50 on the first try!! We are very happy with this result. We will retest the house after the last few windows are completely installed to see how we can bring this result down even lower. The lower this number gets, the smaller and more effective our heating and ventilation system can be.

Early results predictions/friendly wagers. Here's hoping we reach Mark's 0.18 with the final.

Early results predictions/friendly wagers. Here's hoping we reach Mark's 0.18 with the final.

Passive House Appliances

Exciting times – appliance showrooms

Exciting times – appliance showrooms

Choosing our Passive House appliances was no simple task. Our decisions we were largely garnered by a couple very important Passive House principles, in addition to the normal stuff you’d look for in an appliance: cost, performance, reliability, aesthetics, noise level, etc.

1. Low energy use

We have to ensure that our house’s energy demands are under a certain value in order to meet the Passive House standard. We calculate this with the help of the energy modeling software, which requires many different input values. Some, of which, are the EnerGuide ratings for our appliances. They tell you the annual energy consumption of the model in kilowatt hours. The EnergyStar program publishes a ‘most efficient’ list every year, which is a good place to start looking.

2. No external ducting

Here’s where our list of options gets dramatically reduced. With our house, we are not venting to the outside (heaven forbid we penetrate the air barrier). As a result, we must find recirculating options for appliances that otherwise would (vent to the outside), such as the range hood ventilator and our clothes dryer. Oh, and since we have no external ventilation, this precludes us from considering a gas cooktop because open flames without external ventilation is a ‘no-no’ for building code.

At first these may sound like Passive House trade-offs, but in fact, Mark and I are seeing them more as ‘trade-ups’. Because why would you want to throw all that warm air (aka. Heat, aka. Energy) out of the house when you could recycle it and feed the energy needs of our house from within rather than pull from the grid? I sure wouldn’t.

With that in mind, here’s what we decided to go with:


Whirlpool 7.3 cu ft. HybridCare™ Ventless Duet® Dryer with Heat Pump Technology

The most efficient dryer on the market also happens to use ventless heat pump technology. The same heat pump technology that operates our domestic hot water tank. Bam.


We’re simply getting the matching Whirlpool washing machine.


Bosch 500 series - SHP65T52UC

Bosch dishwashers also use heat pump technology, making them pretty darn efficient. This one is whisper quiet, which we like, especially considering our main floor is rather open-plan.


Bosch 500 Series 30” Induction Cooktop

We are so excited that induction technology has made it to the consumer world! There are so many great things to say about induction. It uses magnetic conduction, which is instant, consistent, precise and significantly more energy-efficient than ol’ thermal conducting cooktops (gas and electric) which throw away much of the heat they produce. And best of all, you can put your hand on the burner immediately after taking the pot away. Who hasn’t wanted to do that before?! Well now you can.

Wall oven

Whirlpool convection 30” white - WOS 92EC0AS


Best Cattura Downdraft 30” - D49M30SB

This was by far our most complicated appliance to figure out. Our cooktop is in the island — we like to cook and be part of the action. We have a very large, very beautiful window spanning the length of our kitchen. The last thing we wanted to do was to put a space-aged, over-the-island range hood hanging down from the ceiling, disrupting our lines and views out the window. In order to avoid this, we needed to find a downdraft ventilator — one that sits in the island itself — with a recirculating kit.

Downdraft ventilators are widely regarded as inferior to mounted-above styles because they aren’t able to catch as much of the steam, smoke, and heat, that naturally rises. Even though downdrafts are not quite as effective at removing air, this is less of an issue for us thanks to our induction cooktop. A gas cooktop uses combustion to heat, a natural byproduct of which is smoke (which is why you’re required to vent to the outside with a gas cooktop). With induction, smoke and other pollutants are only a byproduct of forgetting the pot of boiling pasta on the stove too long, which reduces the number of contaminants our blower has to extract from the air. For the most part, our ventilator will only have to remove steam and smells. Any pollutants will be cleared, prior to recirculation, with a charcoal filter.

There are several companies that make these downdraft ventilators, with recirculation kits, that actually pop-up out of the counter to heights as high as 18”. They are all luxury brands. I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that our downdraft vent, which is inferior to overhead vents, was going to cost as much as the cooktop and wall oven combined. This is one case where design has trumped all other options.

On the ‘up’ side, however, we can take advantage of the recirculated air and improve the overall experience of working in our kitchen. How, you ask?

We will be mounting the fan blower and charcoal filter in our mechanical room, effectively removing any noise from the kitchen itself. No more shouting over a noisy fan motor. And by moving the warm cooking air into the mechanical room, we will be augmenting the energy source for our domestic hot water heater. Our domestic hot water tank is a heat pump model, which pulls heat in from the surrounding air through a compressor and into our water. The surrounding air (in our mechanical room) becomes slightly cooler as a result. Our downdraft air supply will help make-up some of that heat lost to the hot water tank, and reduce our requirement to pull from the grid.

Make sense? I’m not surprised if it doesn’t. I’ll be posting a video of Mark explaining this to me with helpful diagrams likely tomorrow....

So there you have it. Some big decisions made. Each decision turns out to be more of an ordeal then at first glance. I know more about dishwashers now than I ever thought I needed to know. But I'm glad I took the time to do the research and understand. As we are doing with every aspect of our build.

I should also note that we purchased a Consumer Reports Online subscription for the duration of the build to help us with some of our research. It’s been most helpful so far in choosing our appliances.

Construction week 30 – siding

After 30 weeks of construction, our interior wall cavities are nearly complete. They will contain our electrical and plumbing 'behind the scenes' as to not breach our Passive House air barrier. But before we can call up the electrician and plumber, The Cornelis Grey crew has a few more interior jobs to finish up first. We also need to make some key lighting and plumbing decisions. Decisions decisions. 

On that note, we crept a little closer towards making some other big decisions. The biggest of which is our siding materials and install. We’re going with black hardie panel on the inside core, and natural cedar on the enveloping sleeve.

Our cladding choices

Our cladding choices

We want this inside core to feel as if it were rising from the earth, as one monolithic shape. Mark is typically not a huge fan of hardie board, especially in our case, because the standard flashing details (at the corners and between boards) can feel clunky and disjointed, which works against the unbroken, monolithic shape we were hoping for. But the price and practicality of hardie panel is hard to beat (vs. cement board). Never one to compromise, Mark has designed some custom flashing for between the boards and corners. He’s also craftily designed our electrical panel (where the meter sits on the outside of the house) and eavestrough system as well. We’re getting it bent and cut out of matching black metal. Metal is pretty cheap, even when it’s custom. It’s details like this that we hope will shine through in our house.

The cedar sleeve is the protective wrapper hugging the house. It echoes our living space and forces inward focus, which stems from our love of courtyard architecture. The black hardie-paneled core grounds the house, while the cedar screen lifts it. 

We drove out to Smiths Falls this weekend to take a look at some cedar. There are so many benefits to cedar siding. We plan on allowing ours to age naturally, which will turn it from a warm blond wood to an soft silver colour. It’s super no maintenance, is water and insect resistant, and lasts a lifetime in its natural state. It’s also grown locally and milled to our specs. What’s not to love?

Eastern white cedar, aging gracefully like Meryl Streep

Eastern white cedar, aging gracefully like Meryl Streep

Before: logs of easter white cedar 

Before: logs of easter white cedar 

After: milled 4" eastern white cedar with 'v' groove

After: milled 4" eastern white cedar with 'v' groove

I've explained a bit of the 'why' behind our siding choices. But there were certainly many other factors that played unto our decision-making. You may have noticed we have two brightly coloured neighbours? If you haven’t, one is canary yellow while the other is straight-up orange. On the one hand, we could have followed suit and painted it a wacky bright colour, becoming Ottawa’s very own ‘painted ladies’. But on the other...we’ve decided to contrast them by keeping things natural and neutral, while complementing them with a solid ultramarine blue door. We’ll be introducing more colour with our front yard planter boxes and decking, which will incorporate some rusty-coloured weathering steel. The house will probably recede as it ages gracefully and settles into it’s new home on the street.

And last but not least:

Drumroll please….

The preliminary air test was completed. 


Stay tuned for the results, hehe. 






Hint: we passed with flying colours.





Construction weeks 26 & 27: windows and air barrier


We have windows! The Hermann’s installed those that could be man-handled and lifted into place by hand on week one, and the remainder on week two with the help of a crane.

Getting the house sealed in and weather proofed is holding us back at this point so it feels good to have them in place. And damn they’re fine. Feels like a legit house now. It’s a thing of beauty.

The crew also finished off the wall cavity insulation and started installing the air barrier, which is a layer of OSB (oriented strand board -- comes in sheets like plywood) that gets taped at all the seams with a special Siga membrane tape.

And some photos:

Window delivery

Window delivery

Our glass

Our glass

Mark and Andreas trying to give high 5s while holding up a 2000 lb window in place

Mark and Andreas trying to give high 5s while holding up a 2000 lb window in place

The thickness of our triple-pane kitchen window. NO backyard baseball games.

The thickness of our triple-pane kitchen window. NO backyard baseball games.

Kitchen window install -- Justin and Andreas

Kitchen window install -- Justin and Andreas

Rear elevation avec les windows

Rear elevation avec les windows

Front elevation with temporary door

Front elevation with temporary door

The loft window lift-and-slide

The loft window lift-and-slide

What else of news?

There have been some headaches around getting our second construction mortgage withdraw because our unconventional build is being treated as conventional. We hope things have been ironed out, but have yet to receive the monies in our bank. This is a longer blog post for another time. Argh.

Now our shell is 95% complete. There are still a few items outstanding:

  • our attic and flat roof need insulating (blown-in cellulose)

  • some wood fibreboard is missing on the outside (because of how the walls were lifted)

  • some weather-proof taping to be done on the seams of the wood fibre board

We need to start making decisions ASAP on a lot of things. Our kitchen will need 10–12 weeks at the factory, which means we are already behind the 8-ball. Our lighting and plumbing fixtures need sorting too. We have yet to make these decisions and already decision fatigue has set in.

If I’ve made light of building a home, in any way, you have been misguided. It’s not for the weak of heart or will. One the one hand, I’m ecstatic to see our home coming together and to reach these huge milestones. One the other, there is still so much to do. It’s a massive source of stress. In some ways though, it feels like the homestretch (before the homestretch). And when I walk into our home, I am in complete awe. I love it so much, which definitely helps to ease the stress. Looking forward to ticking some key decisions off the list.