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Australia’s largest passive house: The groundbreaking home that will change the way we build

In Brisbane’s inner-west, on a hill looking over to the CBD, a house unlike any ever built in Australia is coming together.

The team at sustainability-focused Brisbane building firm Solaire Properties has set itself a sizeable task: apply a concept first used in the frigid Austrian winter to keep a Brisbane family cool through the sweltering summer months.

It’s the largest house of its type ever built in Australia, the first in Brisbane and, in a field usually associated with small windows and functionality over flair, the team is building a luxury home expected to sell for north of $3 million.

On Owen Lane in Auchenflower, Solaire Properties directors Harley Weston and James McElhenny are building a mammoth passive house, designed by award-winning architect Joe Adsett and adapted to meet stringent international design and building criteria.

Even though the execution has been and will be challenging, the concept itself is relatively simple.

Through a combination of hyper-effective insulation, smart design, an air-tight membrane and a high-tech ventilation system, passive houses promise energy savings of up to 90 per cent.

In essence, the houses are sealed completely to allow in and out only the correct amount of hot or cool air to maintain a consistent, ideal temperature, generally about 23 degrees.

This is done through everything from correctly orienting the house to using triple-glazed windows and to so-called thermal barriers that stop heat leaching in or out through concrete slabs and steel beams. In the winter, human bodies, appliances and heat recovery help keep the home warm and in the summer passive cooling techniques such as strategic shading are supposed to keep them cool.

Every element of the house matters and feeds into a complicated formula that is used to certify the home or other building before and after construction. In the case of the Vanquish project, the team opted for exposed concrete flooring instead of timber floorboards after seeing the massive difference it made to temperatures.

“It’s definitely a different way of looking – sort of rebuilding the building model, I guess, that we’re used to – at how to construct houses,” Mr McElhenny said.

“Not only in Queensland but Australia, which is why they’re … starting to become more frequent down in southern cooler states.”

The first passive house, or passivhaus, was built in 1991 by Austrian physicist Wolfgang Feist as a way to more efficiently heat homes. But the approach should work just as well to keep things cool in a baking Brisbane summer as a European winter.

The air temperature is controlled and filtered completely by what’s called heat recovery ventilation, a sort of airconditioner that pre-heats or pre-cools the outside air with the aid of air on its way out of the home.

Thousands of passive houses have been certified internationally but there are just 13 in Australia, mostly in and around Melbourne. Worldwide, only a few projects have been certified anywhere as warm as Brisbane.

The guys from Solaire, who already bring an efficiency-focused, sustainable approach to all their projects see the passive house concept as an obvious next step for the building industry as climate change makes already hot Australian summers even more so.

“This is probably a proof of concept for us and we’re also teaching ourselves,” Mr Weston said.

“We’re looking to position ourselves and you know, as far as I’m concerned, we will position ourselves, as industry leaders in sustainable residential development or just sustainable building as a whole.

“For us, the best way to do that was to build something ourselves, test it and then market test it.”

Vanquish is also different because of its flexibility. While it’s designed to be kept air-tight and temperature controlled, it will also be adapted to its hillside positioning with huge doors that can be opened up to catch a cross-breeze when the weather is right.

“Individually, every little detail in the whole house, every little connection detail [matters] which is just nothing like what I’ve ever had to rack my brain over or understand or model or anything like that,” Mr McElhenny said.

“It’s just so far above and beyond where Australia’s at the moment.”

With the addition of solar panels and batteries, the builders are also aiming for a net-zero energy usage, similar to two of their other projects nearby. On top of that, they plan to organise a system whereby the three homes can sell power back and forth to each other through the Control4 smart home platform that already allows the whole house to be controlled from a smartphone.

Shutters automatically roll down when the sun starts coming in at a certain angle, lights can be programmed to go on or off at certain times and you can monitor and control the whole house in real time.

The team is aiming to finish the project in early 2020, at which point Mr Weston hopes it can sell for $3 million to $3.5 million.

Ray White New Farm sales and marketing consultant Josh Brown said the market was demanding better energy efficiency in homes and the buyer would likely be someone who understood those benefits.

“Vanquish doesn’t present as a typical passive home. A lot of the passive house design sits below the surface and first impressions are that it is a stunning architectural home,” he said.

“The easy sell of a passive home is that it is a healthier, quieter, more private and cheaper style of living.

“The only hard part of the sell is familiarising people with what a passive house is and how it is built.”

Sourced from Domain, written by Jorge Branco - July 15, 2019

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