Koko and Robert Saar Visit Latvian Passive House Builder

I was recently reminded of the high standards, skills, and detail oriented-nature of Europeans after a recent meeting with Andis Krauklis of Passive House Factory in Latvia. (My father, Wolfgang Wenzel, was a very proud bricklayer when he came to Canada from Germany as a teenager). Andis kindly toured us through his high-tech offices where engineers, architects, drafts-people, and other professionals work together on Passive House projects. Unfortunately, I left that meeting with the realization that, in my personal opinion, many construction practises in North America are less than stellar.

In Passive House construction, where precision and airtightness is critical, rethinking and retraining trades-people in Passive House building practises is necessary. Have we been too lackadaisical in our traditional construction standards? Do we need new building codes? Do we need more building inspectors trained in Passive House principles?

We proudly showed Andis photos of our construction site several months earlier. He was a little surprised to see that our wall panels were not craned in at exactly 90° angles to the floor. Which meant that our cement slab must therefore not have been perfectly level. The photos showed small spaces between the wall panels. To make the required Passive House seal, our construction team had to take the extra steps of leveling everything off, filling in all the spaces with proper foam insulation, and then taping everything up. Our crew did a great job making the house airtight. We achieved 0.5 air exchanges per hour on our blower door test (one of the requirements for certification), which is difficult to get in North America. The lower the number, the more airtight your house is. Andis said his results are usually 0.2 or lower.

After looking through our construction photos Andis took us to tour a current Passive House duplex (or “semi” if you’re reading this in Ontario).  Here are some photos:

The happy, proud Latvian tradespeople were on site doing their excellent work as the Passive House duplex took shape. We saw features I’ve never seen in Canada: windows with giant indoor sills, exterior roller blinds, and each group of electrical wires were even covered with plastic protection.

Here is a photo of how the Latvians place the windows inside the frame. Having more space on an interior windowsill is awesome! And note the space for the external roller blinds.

One more thing that I just have to share, since you know my fear of mice, is this photo of the metal phalanges that are put on the lower exterior of the building. This metal strip’s sole purpose is to prevent rodents from climbing up underneath the exterior cladding. Way to go, Passive House Factory!

In a very strong, stagnant and ubiquitous construction world, where the status quo has been the norm for decades in North America without being questioned, bringing in new techniques that require precision and attention to detail when building a Passive House has been difficult. To be fair, workers are only as good as their teacher. My husband, Rob Saar, recently said each tradesperson he’s encountered has been curious about Passive House and has been quite excited once they understand the process and long-term impact. The goal now is to “train the trainer”. Here is Andis teaching a concept to Rob. A European training a North American. There is hope!

We were very impressed with the workmanship in this build in Latvia. And look forward to seeing more photos of their Passive Homes. Thanks Andis!

As always, if you want to see photos of our build, and learn more about CedarValley Passive Homes, check out our website: CedarValleyPH.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Comments

  1. Mathew Newcombe on October 4, 2019 at 1:36 am

    It’s always enlightening to see how far ahead Europe is with regards to building science. After seeing a Latvian Passivhaus, is there anything you would change with regards to your build? The metal screening at the bottom of the exterior cladding is something I’ve seen before and makes a lot of sense!

    • Koko Saar on October 4, 2019 at 1:45 pm

      Thanks, Matt, for your comments. I think in our next Passive house, I would place the windows closer to the outside wall, to have a larger windowsill inside. It does affect the PHPP calculations, so best to incorporate exterior roller blinds, specially on the south facing windows.

  2. Mathew Newcombe on October 5, 2019 at 3:29 am

    I think it’s a common misconception that adding blinds to the inside of a window actually do much in terms of thermal performance. Once the infrared energy makes it through the glass, it’s already inside the thermal envelope of the house – the Europeans have this detail right!

    ‘Outtie’ windows are definitely nice, but they will be more exposed to rainwater and potential drainage issues. That being said, I also prefer deep window sills!

  3. r v amerongen on November 25, 2019 at 8:00 pm

    Hello, I think it depends on your geographical location. I personally like large window sills both inside and outside. The truth will be in the middle. 😉 If your window is closer to the outside and you have no overhang, the sun can come in with too much force in the summer. Overheating ?! Maybe you can make a thicker wall under the window area (make a cupboard) or a window sill with an overhang to create a nice width. You also protect your window materials. With wood in particular, less paint is needed over the years. To protect your room indoors against too much heat, place the window more inwards. Wind less over the glass to cool or warm it up. Outside shutters also have more influence on the heat and cold, especially the insulated ones (alu with foam inside). The shutters save you window cleaning, noise e.t.c. Venetian blinds and shutters on the inside have less use, because the heat between the glass and the Venetian blind rises higher and still rises indoors. More air movement that gives a colder air flow. I personally like having them inside when I have a balcony in front of the window or doors on the sunny side of the house. But for the best result, as Mathew wrote, they must be on the outside. I hope my english is understandable.

    • Koko Saar on December 22, 2019 at 5:01 pm

      Thanks so much for your insight!

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