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Dena Barr, SPPHC16 Volunteer – Graduate Architect

The 2016 South Pacific Passive House Conference was an informative and engaging event that discussed the challenges and successes of projects located across the globe and of varying scales. It was fascinating to hear the perspectives of experts working behind the scenes of different types of projects that have achieved passive house standard; learning of the factors that influence the built outcome including design & construction details, testing, communication and collaboration.

Over the course of the conference it became clear that through more focus on the initial stages of design process and improved precision during the construction process, benefits of comfort and energy efficiency can be achieved in buildings without additional cost. For example, as presented by Elrond Burrell of Architype, their passive house schools in the UK were built on lower budgets than their counterparts as increased costs in the thermal envelope could be offset by decreased heating and cooling service infrastructure.

It was interesting to compare the passive house standard with current housing standards in Australia. Whilst a passive house allows a maximum of 15kwh of heating/cooling per sq m/year, a 6 star NatHERS assessment allows over 30kwh of heating/cooling per sq m/year in Melbourne and less in warmer climate zones. Achieving passive house in more temperate climates than Europe such as Melbourne is easier to attain, yet as described by Glenn Murdoch in his presentation, that does not mean it is a priority. He explained that of the 21,000+ new homes built in Chirstchurch since the 2011 earthquakes, almost all were rebuilt to minimum requirements or kept to the specification of the original house since upgrades to homes (including insulation upgrades) are not covered by insurance policies. Only one home in region was re-built to passive house standard.

 The conference highlighted the gap between the thermal efficiency standard of housing locally compared with what is practicably and financially achievable as demonstrated in Europe. Since heating and cooling of homes attributes to approximately 40% of household carbon emissions in Australia, there are many reasons to consider applying these principles to our practice for better indoor quality of life as well as for the environment.