I was just watching an episode of Daily Planet which showcased the Austria House - a Passive House that has been built at Whistler. It looked very interesting, stating that it only uses about 10% of the energy used in North American homes. It does not have a furnace at all, it cools and heats itself. It was interesting to see how they set up the windows for maximum sun exposure, see how thick the walls and doors are, etc. Believe me, with my current heating bills from having sooooo much -20C weather lately, it kept my attention. The insulation in my house sucks rocks.
But - and yes there is always a BUT..... I also made mental note of what materials were used, and thought about the cost of it. First off, the walls were super duper thick and all wood. It looked to be about 10 times more wood than we normally use to frame a home. Instead of having a stud every 16 inches or so, they are lined up all together, all the way around. That is one hell of a lot of WOOD. You know - Save The Trees comes to mind after watching the construction of that place! I also noted that the subfloor was very thick styrofoam. What is styrofoam? Oh yes it's polystyrene which is made from - drum roll please - Petroleum. It is ---- plastic! So anyway, you have a ton of wood, cement, special styrofoam, glass all over the place, etc etc. How GREEN is that really? How much energy was used up to make all of those items, put them together, ship them (the wood was shipped 12000 km from Austria for this particular house), etc etc.
I didn't quite catch the cost of the house, I believe they said 600,000 but it didn't sound like she said 'dollars', perhaps she said Euro. If it was euro, that's over $870,000C (based on xe.com Feb 11, 2010 rate). Wooooooie. Let's just all go out and get one of those homes! Pretty darn cheap! I bet we will start seeing the results of saving 90% in energy costs when we finally pay it off in 30 or 60 years lol.
Seriously though, it was a cool house, awesome idea -- but again still using products that cost far too much for most people to be able to afford. I would LOVE not to have a furnace, massive heating bill, lovely big windows. But that is just not attainable for most people. I noticed that the article I linked to above did not mention anything about 'wood' being used. It said 8 inch thick cement walls. Maybe I dozed off during that part lol, but all we saw was a ton of wood being slotted together, and a huge thick wad of pinkish fuzzy insulation. But whatever, maybe that was for the roof and I was ZZZZing lol. Still - cement, wood, styrofoam, pink insulation --- green? Energy saving? In theory, yes. But what about the energy used to MAKE that stuff? It just made me giggle. I know, once the house is built it won't use up much more energy unlike our current homes. But my walls are not 8 inches thick and last time I checked, I could not afford a nearly 1 million dollar home.
So for now, I will curl up and sleep in my natural gas heated home and listen to the furnace kick in every hour. If I win the lottery, I promise to look into buying a Green home ;)
I found some more info.... I noticed in the austria house blog that they have an FAQ section, so while reading that I came across a part about being cost-effective: "A passive house is cost-effective when the combined capitalized costs (construction, including design and installed equipment, plus operating costs for 30 years) do not exceed those of an average new home."
My question would be: how much energy is used to create all of the items for this passive house, compared to an average new home in north america? Don't we have to take that into account too if we are 'really being green'?
And another FAQ: "Q: Do we have the material and capacity in Canada to build Passive Houses?
A: The raw material is available, Canada just needs to acquire the necessary technology. Canada has wood - an important component (although passive houses could also be built in concrete - but who wants to do that?). Pine beetle wood works for this kind of building. Most important is the airtight wood shell."
Okay so it might be a good idea to use up some pine beetle wood. Those little buggers are running rampant in BC and AB. But I think about if a whole ton of people start building these homes, is that not scary to anyone? I am a forest ranger's daughter, I can't help it! Just because I don't fall for AGW and the whole Green Hype doesn't mean I want to run around destroying every resource we have. It worries me that even though forests are considered a renewable resource, it takes a long time for the trees to grow back and this house sure uses a lot of wood. Imagine if every new home was built this way - that bothers me. Anyway that's just my father talking through my fingers right now ;)
But are they not valid ideas? If the amount of energy used to create these new homes is a lot more than our average homes, how many years does it take to even things out? How many years to make up the extra money it costs to build/buy one in the first place? It seems like all of these current plans are aimed at the elite, while the regular working class people are left behind to feel guilty about their humble homes belching out fumes and sucking up gas and ruining our planet.