I work with homes and people. At this point in my career, I’ve probably shown thousands of
homes. Efficiency has become more and more important to buyers as the years go on, and I
completely understand why. With climate change, a home without AC isn’t just uncomfortable for
a couple of weeks a year anymore. With rising heating and cooling costs, as well as rising costs
of food, access to internet, and general “being alive” fees, I get it. And I, too, dream of passive
home construction and possible retrofits – not just for affordability, but to help reduce the impact
on our planet.
A passive home doesn’t require heating or cooling systems, because it’s built so efficiently that it
can regulate its own temperature. Neat, right? Not so easy (or affordable) to do. Also, I like
windows. As my husband likes to say, I am basically a large house plant that requires lots of
light and water to be reasonable. Large windows let in lots of light, but also make it harder to
heat or cool a home, even with fancy triple pane, gassy windows.
So, while I have a dream that society will make passive homes a regular and affordable thing to
help everyone stay warm and cool in a changing climate, and also have less impact on the
environment…yeah, that’s extremely unlikely. But, what about a passive-aggressive home?
No, I’m not talking about a smart home with a sassy attitude that quietly talks back to you when
you run out of milk: “ I TOLD you that the milk in the fridge was running low, but did you go and
buy more at my suggestion? NoooooOOOOOooo…”. While objectively hilarious, and with the
rise of AI and our robot overlords, it is wise to be polite to your smart tech helpers, that’s not
what I mean by a passive-aggressive home.
To me, a passive-aggressive home is one that is built so efficiently that it doesn’t require much
to run, while not completely off-grid. PASSIVE in that it doesn’t have to do much because it’s so
AGRESSIVELY efficient. It will still require a furnace and AC (and with our building codes, it will
also need HRV, ductwork, electrical and plumbing etc.) but it will be so well insulated and
designed, that it won’t require much energy to run those systems. Perhaps even solar or
geo-thermal can come into play, but now we’re talking big bucks.
While we’re playing with imaginary money and pipe-dreams, let’s also make a foundation that
will work with nature and engineering to withstand a changing climate, flooding and shifting
ground. Perhaps the trees and vegetation that are planted will be able to help with cooling,
erosion, moisture wicking, filtering etc. Ooh! And finishings can be made with reclaimed wood
and recycled materials. But it’ll also still be “pretty” and media-worthy. And it’ll all be in a
walkable neighbourhood, with decent access to transit, so that cars won’t be required to go
absolutely anywhere. Okay, now I’m just getting hysterical with the dollar signs.
Unfortunately, the cost of building (as everything) just keeps going up, making even a basic
build unattainable for many people. So, while we as humans do need to start thinking more
about efficiency as we build and retrofit homes, codes get pulled back to try to “keep things
affordable”. I get it. I do. Maybe as more people make these choices when they build, creating
more demand and better access to these materials and techniques, costs will come down a bit.
Dang it’s nice to dream, and I’m going to keep taking courses and doing as much as I can to
make that dream a reality – hopefully in my lifetime, or maybe my son’s.