Want to save big on your home heating? This Montreal family knows how

Ahuntsic residents Damien and Deborah Chaveron transformed their old home as closely as they could to follow PassivHaus guidelines. Big in Europe, the PassivHaus movement is slowly gaining traction in Canada.

Passivhauses adhere to a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency

Damien and Deborah Chaveron moved to Canada from France with their two daughters four years ago. They rebuilt their Ahuntsic home following eco-friendly Passivhaus guidelines and are waiting to see if it will be certified. (Radio-Canada)

A family in Montreal's Ahuntsic neighbourhood has drastically reduced the amount of energy their home uses by tapping into a European trend.

Damien and Deborah Chaveron transformed their old home as closely as they could to follow Passivhaus guidelines.

Big in Europe, the Passivhaus movement is slowly gaining traction in Canada, where they are also known as "passive homes."

The houses adhere to a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building. After they are built, they require little energy for space heating or cooling and are supposed to use 90 per cent less energy than a standard house.

The Chaveron's new energy-efficient home in Ahuntsic while it was under construction. (Jay Turnbull/CBC )
In Germany and France, retrofitting homes to be Passivhauses has been a trend for years. But in Canada, there are only about 20 houses that come close to being certified, and the Chaverons' is one of them.

They hope to make their home a model in Canada. The couple spent about $400,000 for the partial demolition and construction of their home.

It cost about 10 per cent more to retrofit their home to PassivHaus standards.

The specifics

The Chaverons called Richard Price, a builder who has focused his career on building energy efficient homes. He said the key is having large windows facing south to maximize heat from the sun.

"One of the main things of the Passivhaus are the super-efficient windows. Really well insulated, high-quality triple glazing so it's really thick and that much glass means that we get to keep all the heat within the house," he said.

Price tripled the required amount of insulation when retrofitting the Chaverons' home.

Richard Price, a homebuilder who has focused his career on building energy efficient homes, said PassivHauses have well insulated windows with high-quality triple glazing. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)
The home produces — and retains — most of its own heat. Price said the heat is emitted from the appliances and even the people living inside.

"When we take a shower or a bath, we actually save the water, we gain the heat from it to preheat the water that goes into the hot water tank and then we use the water from the showers and the bath to flush the toilets," he said.

Another fundamental feature of the Passivhaus is the high performance ventilation system, according to Price.

"We preheat the air before it comes into the house, then we do the heat exchange in the ventilation system itself. That ensures all the fresh air that goes to the rooms comes in at a warm, ambient temperature."

A 3,000-watt, 240-volt heater heats the entire 2,800 square foot home. Four small baseboard heaters provide supplementary heat, he said.

Is it worth it?

Critics, though, say striving for the title of Passivhaus isn't worth the payoff.

"The certification doesn't add to the quality of the house, it just adds recognition but it's very hard to justify paying so much more for the certification," said Daniel Boyer, an energy efficiency coordinator at Écohabitation.

The Passivhaus standard limits energy used for heating to just 15 kWh/sq. m. In comparison, Boyer said an older home in Montreal would use between 120 and 150 kWh /sq. m.

Boyer said energy efficient homes get close enough to that mark without the added expense that comes with trying to attain the Passivhaus standard.

Waiting for Passivhaus certification

The Chaverons are waiting to see if their home gets certified as a genuine Passivhaus. If it does, Price said it would be the first one in Quebec.

The Chaverons' Ahuntsic home. After they are built, a Passivhaus requires little energy for space heating or cooling and is supposed to use ninety per cent less energy than a standard house. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)
In the meantime, it has been certified as LEED Platinum — a designation that's only been given to 150 buildings in Canada.

LEED Platinum buildings "contribute positively to the environment [...] while vastly minimizing the negative impacts that buildings generate."

Damien Chaveron said he's not sure how much money he'll save in the long run, but that wasn't the motivation for refurbishing the house.

"For me it was more an investment in quality of life. Not feeling that we are using too much energy," he said.