How do you build a Passive House in NL?

I felt that this was an appropriate title for this particular blog entry.  I had a question on one of my blog entries about building here and finding "qualified" trades.  This also links into a radio interview that I did during this past week on the VOCM Energy Show with hosts Gerry and Chris Skinner. (  During that show I had several of the same questions; about local trades, training, etc.  The show was pre-recorded and it is available to stream online if you wish to pass away an hour learning about passive homes and other topics.

So lets begin.  I went into this venture knowing that I would be a guinea pig since this would be the first performance modelled home of its kind in Newfoundland and Labrador built to the PHIUS standard (  So this process alone needs some addressing.  Will the home be certified?  Certification is complicated and costly.  To further address this, certification would pretty much be impossible since these homes have to be built by a Passive House qualified builder that has completed PHIUS builders certification course and has passed the certification.  Achieving this with a limited budget was not going to work so I got creative!  I decided to do the course myself!  After being through one house build and many renovations it seemed like a good option.   The builders course was offered by the company that I was going to contract to design my house.  Natalie Leonard (P. Eng, CPHC) of Passive Design Solutions ( taught the course last November at Ryerson University in Toronto.  It was an amazing course with a lot of information.  The course material was covered over 4 days, from about 8 am to 5 pm.  In the evenings I reviewed all of the material covered that day.  I would say I spent about 48 hours total on the course which equates to the number of lecture hours of a typical university term course.  Despite not working for a company, PHIUS agreed to let me write the exam. I passed the exam with flying colors.  I knew I did well but was surprised by a perfect score of 100%!!!  I was congratulated by PHIUS and told that this is rare!  With this accomplishment under my belt I feel that I am more than ready to tackle this task.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention.  I would say that the necessity here is to bring the first PHIUS+ 2015 modelled home to Newfoundland and Labrador.  To facilitate overview of construction and all air sealing details I want to introduce Evolution Homes.  It is a new startup, aimed at guiding construction of the first performance home in Newfoundland and Labrador modelled to the PHIUS standard.  Who is Evolution Homes?  Evolution Homes is: me and my dad; working together again almost 10 years after we said we wouldn't do it again!!!!

The last time I built a house there were a lot of unknowns.  This time I feel much more relaxed.  A play on appearance, shapes, words, and colors, our logo reflects many things.  From a playful chalk drawing, with simple words and colors, the Evolution Homes logo represents environmentally friendly, durability, efficiency, and ultimately a healthy lifestyle for its inhabitants.  Evolution Homes is now ready for the Flatrock Passive House build.


  1. Hi David,
    Great to see that you're doing this! I'd be more than happy to help you get it certified as cheaply as possible. My company ThermalWise has done lots of work with Passive Houses in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and we work frequently in Newfoundland. I'm a certified PHIUS+ rater and our company is also an EnerGuide service organization. Be interested to talk to you about your project regardless...
    Jordan MacDonald

    1. Hi Jordan,

      Thanks for reaching out. One of the first steps in planning this house was to see if there were any 3rd party raters. During that research stage I did find your company. I believe that you did some energy efficiency documentation for the Government of NL. I found the document in some obscure place where nobody could find it. It seems that the Government of NL has had very little to do with promoting energy efficiency here and I doubt that they will given the state of affairs with Muskrat Falls. Not knowing how I was going to approach the house, I waited before I jumped the gun on contacting your company. I did look into the certification process before starting and talked with Mike Anderson and Natalie Leonard (Passive Design Solutions) about it. Given that this venture is already a second job, all the documentation, submissions, and price was a bit of a concern. There were, and still are, alot of unknowns with the project that will have to be defined as the project progresses. This, in itself, lead me to moving forward without certification so I could concentrate on the main task at hand which was achieving the energy efficiency numbers. An acquaintance of mine owns the local Amerispec and has agreed to follow the project so we can get the air sealing right. This will be a major part of the battle. In many ways the air sealing is easier, in other ways it is not but we are prepared to take care of this part ourselves and spend as much time as we need to get it right. This being said, this hose is the guinea pig. We are hoping that we will be able to use it to help define problem areas in construction as well as obtain better defined timelines for construction should we ever construct this wall system again. If you wish to speak further about the project you can contact me at and I can send you my phone number.

      Later and thanks for posting! new post to come soon about windows!

  2. Hi David
    A couple of weeks since checked your site..I have been busy monitoring my attic mounted heatpump.
    As you are aware, I get considerable benefit from solar gain in the attic, but beside that , it seems to knock out all, or most all, the need for defrost cycles that improves efficiency. This unit has operated now 6 years and I thought few defrosts were normal, until I started monitoring outdoor units and see them defrost on a hourly basis.
    The RH in the attic typically runs 15 to 20 or more points lower than outdoors, and the reason why so few defrosts. Yet I am changing the air in the attic about every 2 minutes. This seems remarkable, and yet as a wood worker, I think it would make sense to you, what do you think of this?
    I have a good energy monitor set up that you may be interested in. As I am in Logy Bay, not far from you, you are welcome to drop by and see what it does. And not very expensive. Did you switch from cellusose for your walls to fiberglass insulation?

  3. Hey Winston,

    Its been slow on the site. I have been quite busy arranging all my trades for the build. I am hoping to start posting pictures as the build starts with less concentration on choices, etc.

    have you measured the temperature in your attic relative to exterior temperatures? I may have a reason for that RH thing you are seeing but need to confirm this first.

    We are now going with fibreglass mainly because, there is nobody here that does dense packing....I didnt want my home to be the experiment that went wrong....

  4. As to the attic RH:
    The temperature is always higher in the attic......In L Bay 12 year ago I measures 119 F in May, tracked temperature for a full year, which was one of several reasons to mount in the attic.
    So far in B Cove, near the ocean , it typically runs 20 degrees warmer in April, and went as high as 79.6 F. So RH declines as temp rises. But at night the temperature gradually falls so that the difference is only about 2-4 F different from outdoors, so one would expect attic RH to be only slightly lower, especially at night, but usually 15 to 20 lower even at night.
    But there is a big time lag between a rise in outdoor RH and indoor rising RH. Indoor rises very slowly, such that defrosts seldom occur. Usually no defrosts if indoor RH is below 70. With the weather patterns, outdoor RH averages about 85, but often is over 90.
    At present, with this sleet, RH is 97 outdoors this past 48 hours. I went 40 hours before triggering a defrost, and only one at 9:30 this morning.
    My assessment is this
    That the attic is normally warmer and therefore lower RH, but that the wood trusses and roof matched lumber or plywood acts as a sponge and both absorbs and gives up the moisture, a delayed reaction, and much to the benefit of the heatpump avoiding defrosts. With this weather, outdoor mounting of HP causes defrosting every 50 minutes is typical when the RH is very high.
    I can see two more reasons for the attic good performance......part of the ceiling I have cellulose which is even better to absorb moisture,,,,,,,, and finally, not being extremely air tight, I get some air leakage from inside the house to the attic, this air being very dry, and therefore helps reduce the attic RH. The heat remains on at 73F even when not occuppied , and I assume if the inside temperature was lower, this component would not be so effective ( prior to the HP I used to maintain 50F when not occupied).
    One might thing that wood would not be so effective to moderate RH, and knowing your interest and observation on dry wood for burning.....I figured this would be of interest to you. And of course, there is a big surface area of wood in the attic, so the absorption may be only shallow into the wood, before outdoor RH improves and allows drying again.
    You may have additional thoughts on this........
    I have an unfinished south facing area(10 by 15 ft) open to the attic, but this at present seems to have pros and cons on the attic, increased the temperature a little when sunny, and decreases at night (gnd temp about 37-40 F) and the ground is damp soil at 99 RH. Covering this soil last week with plastic seems to have improved the attic performance some, less moisture from there.And if the wall there were insulated, I would get more daytime solar gain......
    My place there is still a work in progress......should have started monitoring earlier, as the monitoring results leads to insights, and options for further improvement.
    You intend to branch into the contracting Passive house building......and keep your day job I assume..., certainly low energy use housing is the future. 12 billion for Muskrat, and not a dollar toward your venture, I guess. Reducing energy use is counter to the MF scheme, but is what customers will do anyway.

  5. Hi Winston, you're definitely right. RH is decreasing because of the temperature...and I agree that the wood materials as well as all that cellulose is very hygroscopic and moderates the RH in the attic. The moisture storage ability of cellulose is one of the reasons that it does make great insulation for dense packing also.

    Right now, we are moving forward using this house as a project home to better determine construction timelines, logistical issues and ultimately construction costs. As a company we can use this home as a way to streamline processes as well as identify potential downfalls before clients are involved. This will be the first house designed to the PHIUS standard in NL. I will consider the home a success once we hit the target performance numbers. This will be the primary focus of the company in guiding construction of the home. Other projects will not be considered until we have our ducks in a row!

    As you mentioned, I do have a day job, so construction of this home has been and will be like a second job. Using it as a kind of experiment for a business model fits the suit I think...we'll see what happens.



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