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The rise of Passive House: Q+A with Darren O’Dea, Australian Passive House Association Chairman

(Original Article published: architectureanddesign.com.au)

Darren O’Dea is the Chairman of the Australian Passive House Association (APHA), and principal of building physics at Melbourne’s Inhabit.

O’Dea’s technical and consulting expertise has covered environmental and carbon management, corporate social responsibility, energy efficiency and sustainable building design. 

We spoke to him to discuss the rise in numbers of Certified Passive House Professionals in Australia, and what the APHA aims to achieve this year.

The Association has enjoyed an increase in professional’s year on year according to your website. Why do you suppose this is?

2016 certainly proved to be a period of growth for the local Passive House industry, with more professionals completing dedicated Passive House Designer and Tradeperson training than ever before. With Passive House Professionals now totalling 90 individuals across the country, Passive House Designers have hit the magic 50 while Passive House Tradepersons total 40.

The reason for this exponential growth is likely to be found in a bunch of scenarios and individual endeavours but an overarching explanation may be that our buildings simply do not stack up. Professionals, particularly in the engineering community are generally united that National Construction Code compliance driven outcomes fail to focus on occupant comfort and energy efficiency. We are also seeing more of the medium to larger consultancies looking to operate in the Passive House space.

What are the Association’s priorities for 2017?

In January of this year, we asked our members to set our agenda for us – to give us direction and priorities that would match their expectations of the Association. As a proactive group, they certainly did not disappoint.

When asked where the Association can provide the greatest value to its members, four clear priorities materialised.

Advocacy – Simply put, to help support the greater adoption of Passive House construction. Fortunately, this was something we are already aware of and have recently joined the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC), a peak body of key organisations committed to a sustainable built environment in Australia. We are also engaging with local and regional governments that are keen to understand the ‘fabric first’ opportunity of Passive House construction from a low to zero carbon policy perspective. Furthermore, as the research and development builds towards the proposals for changing the NCC Section J minimum requirements in 2019, we are seeing more engagement at a national level and a bid to understand the relevance of this new standard in building quality.

Local Chapter Events and Technical Training – In the last 12 months, we have had many successful local chapter events and socials, designed to bring the Passive House community together. However, these have been sporadic and unequally distributed across Australia. This year, we have already arranged technical events on air-tightness, ventilation, condensation, and glazing in Sydney, Canberra, Perth, Hobart and Melbourne.Passive

House Professional Training – Passive House is all about the detail and not something you can jump into. As such, APHA have now arranged training for Certified Passive House Designers and Tradespersons in Sydney and Melbourne throughout 2017, with awesome and super proactive institutional partners. Places are limited and being snapped up.

Passive House Marketing – Passive House construction is still new to Australia, so support that enables our members to transfer the benefits of Passive House to their clients is key. As such, we have created a really cool app that allows members and their clients to contextualise Passive House against a 7 Star NatHERS building to realise how different a design vs construction process is.

Can you please give us a bit of background on the new Sydney Passive House course? Is its implementation a response to demand or a market interest for the Association?

While the colder states have been engaged in the subject of Passive House for a few years now, the warmer climates have been noticeably absent from the Australian conversation.

This is now changing, with more and more enquiries coming from architects, engineers, developers and suppliers all with an eye on Sydney and its expanding suburbs. With projects in Redfern (11 studio apartments), Asquith (residential), Camperdown (residential retrofit) and many more in the pipeline, exciting times are ahead in the world of high comfort, high-performance design.

As a result, APHA saw a clear market interest and opportunity to grow the expansion of Passive House construction. Due to commence on the 28th May 2017, our first Certified Passive House Design course will be delivered over nine days and see 20 participants learn the key Passive House principles via lectures, group design and calculation exercises.

What is the number one misconception about Passive House that you wish everyone would forget?

There are many myths and false narratives around Passive House construction. Beyond the fact that Passive House Construction is not limited to a type of building stock – it is not just for houses – I personally believe the greatest misconception is related to the impact on occupant behaviour and design freedom.

Occupant’s behaviour, such as opening windows, are not restricted by designing to Passive House criteria. Rather than limiting, behaviours are understood scientifically in order to fully appreciate how they can assist in a meaningful natural ventilation strategy suitable to location and climate.

And from a design perspective, while early Passive House design have been fairly tired with a limited boxy aesthetic, those days are all but disappearing on mature or more adventurous markets. Passive House now has a place in contemporary vernacular architecture through advances in materiality and confidence in design.