Publication : Does Passivhaus Pay? By David Olivier

In March 1983, I stayed in a ‘superinsulated retrofit’ in Boston, USA. The three-storey row house with basement was of timber-frame construction [1]. In 1985, I visited a similarly ambitious retrofit in Toronto, Canada, featuring a solid brick-walled ‘heritage building’.

In 1994, I visited a ‘chainsaw’ retrofit’ in central Canada. It gained its nickname because the rafter overhangs were removed using one of these, as a prelude to insulating and draughtproofing the house thoroughly from the outside. The work went ahead in 1982.

These retrofits were the sequel to the new superinsulated buildings which began to appear in North America after 1975 [2]. Doubtless, today, we’d call the new buildings ‘Passivhaus’ and the retrofits ‘Enerphit’.

But except for significant advances in energy-efficient windows [3], the techniques being applied are almost unchanged from the 1970s. The change is the sheer increase in numbers and their spread outside Scandinavia and North America [4].

This opinion piece is on new buildings, but retrofits present a similar dilemma. What is ‘enough’ insulation, given the expense of adding it to a building, compared to how much energy costs now and may cost in the future? How much is ‘too much’?

 

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